Internet shoppers get more legal protection, including the right to keep goods for up to seven days before returning them, under ‘distance selling’ regulations that became law on 31 October.

The new rules mean:

All web sites offering goods for sale will have to display a notice informing people they have a seven-day ‘cooling off period’ after receiving purchases to withdraw from online transactions.

E-commerce sites will also have to display clear descriptions of the goods for sale and identify clearly who is supplying them.

Sites will have to display prices clearly, and specify the cost of delivery.

They will also have to state what geographical market they are selling to and be able to do currency conversions, if needed.

Consumers will no longer be liable for the first £50 when fraudulent transactions are made using their credit cards.

These rules apply to any shopping done from home, so mail order customers will also benefit.

“The Distance Selling Directive will have a profound effect on e-commerce trading. It will change the way every business approaches e-commerce. Even the smallest company must comply or it could face prosecution,” commented lawyer Colin Miller, head of Biggart Baillie, a Scottish law firm specializing in IT and intellectual property.

John Vickers, Director General of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) said: “These rules are good news for consumers. If companies fail to stick to them OFT will seek a court injunction to ensure they comply.”

Sandra Black, manager of the Edinburgh Citizen’s Advice Bureau agreed. “For too long consumers have been unprotected when they purchase via the Internet. This will push the consumer into the front of every business’s mind,” she said.

Ian Gardiner, managing director of, an online off-licence offering same night deliveries in some parts of southwest London, said: “Most credible Internet retailers already have these things in place.” For those that did not it would mean extra work, said Gardiner, who is planning to launch a nationwide same-night booze delivery service soon.

Consumer Affairs Minister Dr Kim Howells said the new rules would put people shopping from home in a much similar position to those buying from high street shops, especially in the run-up to Christmas.

Biggart Baillie’s Gardiner said the most important effect of the new rules was that e-business which failed to comply with them would not be able to recover money due from consumers.

The new regulations do not apply to financial services, land or auctions, or to hotel bookings, transport, catering or leisure services, where the contract is provide services on specific dates. It will not apply to goods made-to-order, those that deteriorate rapidly or shrink-wrapped video, audio or software products which have been unwrapped.

A fuller description of the new rules is at: