GDPR sparks surge in e-commerce legal queries

Changes associated with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) have sparked a surge in e-commerce work for law firms, according to an analysis by law firm Howes Percival.

The regional firm, which helped organisations to prepare for the introduction of GDPR on 25 May, says that it has seen a significant increase in instructions from e-commerce companies with concerns over terms and conditions of sales at the top of the list of queries.

While the media focus around privacy and data protection regulations reached fever-pitch in the run up to implementation, the firm says that e-commerce businesses have now become more aware of the need to review other aspects of their online presence.

Miles Barnes, a corporate and commercial solicitor at Howes Percival, said constant reminders about privacy policies has had a knock-on effect and made people think about other legal issues affecting their business when they trade online.

He explained: "Terms and conditions of sale are often seen as a necessity rather than something that actually adds value to a business, but this couldn't be further from the truth.

"A company's terms and conditions are the legal basis on which all of their products are sold and can make all the difference between a business that has clear processes and protections and one that's constantly fighting fires”, he added.

The company has compiled a checklist of the most common issues around conditions of sale for e-commerce businesses.

1. Know your audience

Who are you actually selling to? Are your customers consumers or businesses? Are your customers UK-based or are they overseas? The law around what you can and cannot do varies significantly depending on who you're selling to and your terms need to reflect that.

2. Know your products

Are you selling physical goods, services or digital content? Again, there are different rules for each type of product, including in key areas like cancellation and refunds. There will also be specific issues to consider based on the type of products you're selling.

3. Keep it simple

It is important to make your terms as simple and easy to read as possible. This will help you avoid complaints and disputes in the long run, by giving your customers and your staff a clear set of rules to follow.

4. Leave out the sales pitch

E-commerce is a competitive business and good quality content on your website can make all the difference to whether a customer buys your products or someone else's. However, your terms and conditions are not the place to make your sales pitch – you want to avoid turning your marketing claims into legal obligations.

5. Review regularly

A good set of terms and conditions is one that not only complies with the current laws but also reflects how your business works. Both things will change over time, so your terms need to as well.

Barnes concluded: "Based on the evidence we've seen recently, a large proportion of e-commerce businesses could do with reviewing their terms and conditions of sale. It is so fundamental to the success of any business, yet most organisations' terms are either too generic, or just haven't been reviewed recently."

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