The sale of goods on the Internet

The sale of consumer goods on the Internet (particularly those between European member states) raises a number of legal issues. First, there is the issue of trust, without which the consumer will not buy; they will need assurance that the seller is genuine, and that they will get the goods that they believe they have ordered.

Second, there is the issue of consumer rights with respect to the goods in question: what rights exist and do they vary across Europe? Last, the issue of enforcement: what happens should anything go wrong? Information and trust Europe recognizes the problems of doing business across the Internet or telephone and it has attempted to address the main stumbling blocks via Directives.

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The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 attempts to address the issues of trust in cross-border consumer sales, which may take place over the Internet (or telephone). In short, the consumer needs to know quite a bit of information, which they may otherwise have easy access to if they were buying face to face. Regulation 7 requires inter alia for the seller to identify themselves and an address must be provided if the goods are to be paid for in advance.

Moreover, a full description of the goods and the final price (inclusive of any taxes) must also be provided. The seller must also inform the buyer of the right of cancellation ▼ BUEN_C07.QXD 2/4/06 2:06 pm Page 191 available under Regulations 10–12, where the buyer has a right to cancel the contract for seven days starting on the day after the consumer receives the goods or services.

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Failure to inform the consumer of this right automatically extends the period to three months. The cost of returning goods is to be borne by the buyer, and the seller is entitled to deduct the costs directly flowing from recovery as a restocking fee. All of this places a considerable obligation on the seller; however, such data should stem many misunderstandings and so greatly assist consumer faith and confidence in non-face-to-face sales.

Another concern for the consumer is fraud. The consumer who has paid by credit card will be protected by section 83 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, under which a consumer/purchaser is not liable for the debt incurred, if it has been run up by a third party not acting as the agent of the buyer. The Distance Selling Regulations extend this to debit cards, and remove the ability of the card issuer to charge the consumer for the first £50 of loss (Regulation 21).

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Moreover, section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 also gives the consumer/buyer a like claim against the credit card company for any misrepresentation or breach of contract by the seller. This is extremely important in a distance selling transaction, where the seller may disappear.

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