As we approach the festive period, it’s important to be aware of consumer rights! Yes, as a business owner, you should know what rights your customers have as well as your own rights!
What are consumer rights?
In the UK and EU, there is a range of laws protecting consumers (i.e., your everyday person acting outside of their trade or business). It’s important to understand this distinction, as consumer rights don’t protect business customers, only consumers. This makes it really important to properly understand your market and understand those to whom you are selling.
*Please note this article is aimed at online businesses, who must comply with distance selling rules*
What rights do customers have when you sell goods?
No matter the goods you sell, whether it is a dress, a candle or jewellery, to be compliant with the Consumer Rights Act 2015 (and other legislation), those goods need to be three things:
Satisfactory quality: Goods shouldn’t be faulty or damaged when they are sold to the customer. When we’re deciding if something is of satisfactory quality, we would ask: what quality would a reasonable person consider satisfactory? For instance, a wedding dress or suit shop would be held to a higher standard than goods you’d find at a high street bargain clothes shop. It’s a question of context.
Fit for purpose: The customer should be able to use the goods for the purpose for which they were supplied.
As described: The goods should match the description you gave to the customer, on the online listing, or any samples the customer might have seen physically before buying.
If the product doesn’t meet all three things, the customer is legally entitled to a full refund or a return. On the other hand, if the customer doesn’t use the product for the purpose intended, the same rules don’t apply and so they are not entitled to a refund or return!
Another right customers have is the right to change their mind if they no longer want the item, for any reason whatsoever. The customer has 14 days to change their mind from the date of making a purchase or receiving the goods (whichever is later). They are entitled to a refund in this case however the goods they returned must be in the same condition as it was sold.
Please note this only applies to businesses that sell online (in-person businesses can have a refund policy if they wish; if they do so, they must comply with those terms).
As a side note, you can choose to increase the cooling-off period beyond the statutory minimum of 14 days if you want, but that’s entirely up to you. There is absolutely no obligation to do so.
Many of you out there will sell bespoke or made-to-measure goods, and the cooling-off period doesn’t apply to these. For instance, if you have custom-made something for a customer, they can’t then change their mind and get a refund. This also applies where customers have paid only a deposit – they cannot legally change their minds and refuse to pay the outstanding balance!
So how can you protect yourself?
You guessed it – your contract!
Whether it’s a contract they sign or terms and conditions they agree to by clicking a tick box, you should clearly state:
- Whether you are providing the goods or services to a business (B2B) or to a consumer (B2C);
- That the customer is entitled to a 14-day cooling off period is (or, if not, why not);
- What they can do if the goods don’t meet the three criteria I mentioned;
- That refunds or returns are not accepted for bespoke, tailored, or perishable goods once the sale is made;
- That no refunds can be given for services already provided; and
- That you can charge a cancellation fee for services and how this is calculated (e.g., will you charge a 50% of the total fees if they cancel close to the day).
Essentially, your contract needs to be crystal clear so your customers know what they should expect and what rights they have.
At Jamieson Law, we pride ourselves on helping small businesses understand their legal obligations and trying to make everything that bit less daunting.
If you feel like you could benefit from some one-to-one advice on consumer rights, your contract, or any other legal matter, please take advantage of our free 15-minute legal advice calls.
You can book a slot here calendly.com/jamiesonlaw/15min