Is your website legal? What you need to know

Published: April 2016

Over the last 14 years Newcastle marketing agency Urban River has built hundreds of websites and experienced firsthand the benefits of selling online. With UK online spend having risen by 11% in 2015 to over £114 billion; things don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. With the internet constantly evolving and the ability to launch your own website now seemingly easier than ever, setting up online store is certainly an attractive business proposition. However, delving head first into ecommerce web design or lead generation has its own set of issues that need to be considered as a standalone. How do you know you’re operating within the law when it comes to consumer rights, EU legislation and web security?

Both the UK and EU have stringent laws which all websites need to be aware of to protect consumers online. Whether you operate an ecommerce store all not, all websites need to adhere to the following directives.

The Data Protection Act

Nearly every online business collects customer data. This can be for future email marketing purposes, or simply just a database of existing customer information. Whatever the size of your business, if you actively store information such as names, telephone numbers or email addresses, you have to register under the Data Protection Act. You must also inform the customer of what you intend to do with their data, particularly if you are using it for marketing purposes or sharing it with any 3rd party.

Whilst a lot of this fine detail can be found in any company’s Terms and Conditions, be warned, generic and poorly worded versions of these documents can be purchased online for very little money, or in some cases they have just been naïvely copied and pasted from another website. Generic T&Cs are a great starting point, but you need to think about your customers specifically. Where will you be storing their data? Is it secure? We’ve all seen cases in recent months where high profile, even global websites have been hacked and sensitive personal information stolen. Talking to an experience hosting and web development company will help to ensure your customer’s information is as protected as can be.

ICO Cookie Law

A Cookie is a small piece of data a website places on your computers browser, often to gain information about you. At a simple level this may just be to track you as a visitor in their website analytics, but a website may also be tracking abandoned carts, service pages and contact forms.

Website cookies can now be used under the rule of ‘implied consent’. This means that you can utilise cookies on your site, but any visitor has to be given the opportunity to opt out of the process. A clear homepage message or banner telling the customer you use cookies is a legal requirement for all websites. That message needs to include the option for the customer to agree or disagree and included a clear link to what information is being gathered and by what services. You can read about the Cookie Law in more detail here.

The Distance Selling Act

Although not applicable to business to business transactions, when it comes to on page information, there are very strict rules for ecommerce websites. Information on your products/ services, prices (with or without VAT) and postage and packaging, must be clearly displayed. A confirmation email following a purchase is also mandatory, along with supporting information of their right to cancel. Many of us take processes like this as standard, but is your new or existing website adhering to the law? Again an experienced ecommerce web design company will ensure you are operating legally from the outset.

Ecommerce Directive

Even if you are a small online store or drop ship business, you must display your company name, registration number (or proprietor’s name), your physical address (not a PO Box number) and clear contact information without fail.
When it comes down to communication with your customers you must clearly identify sales related and promotional emails and their point of origin.

*New to 2016* Alternative Dispute Resolution or Online Dispute Resolution (ADR / ODR)

As of February 2016 and in accordance with European law, it has become mandatory to link to the ODR service clearly from your website. This new directive has been brought in to hopefully resolve online disputes faster and more efficiently, limiting the amount of cases going to court. This directive is applicable to all online traders who sell goods, services or digital content to consumers via their own website within the EU. More detailed information about the ODR service can be found on their website.

As you can see there is a lot to be considered before embarking on your ecommerce website and for those that have an existing site, you may have found out that you’re not adhering to the law as you perhaps thought you were. As an experienced Newcastle based web design company, Urban River’s web development team can not only produce you a fantastic website, built to drive leads and sales, but one that ultimately provides both you and your customers security online.

As an experienced Newcastle web design company, Urban River’s Newcastle Web Design team can not only produce you a fantastic website, built to drive leads and sales, but one that ultimately provides both you and your customers security online. Speak to us today on 0191 456 6199 or email us at

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