Welcome to my witches guide to not losing money.
During lockdown I’ve been spending more time on social media and I have noticed that some businesses are leaving themselves open to paying unexpected charges, and putting themselves at risk of fines. I am not an expert in law (Legal Disclaimer!), but I have put together this witches guide to not losing money, to help you with links so you can research in more depth. Ultimately only a court can decide what is legal or not, the aim of this guide is to keep you and your customers safe.
What are we talking about?
If you sell products or services online, be it from your own website, through Etsy or via direct messaging (DM) through Instagram there are rules you must follow by law. Most of the regulations included here are more about protecting people and keeping them safe, ‘An ye harm none’, if you will.
Here are a few laws and standards you should consider when selling online in the UK: –
- The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 (CCR)
- General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR)
- Schedule 34 of the Product Safety and Metrology Statutory Instrument
- General Product Safety Regulations 2005
- Weights and Measures (Packaged Goods) Regulations 2006
- EU Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH)
- EU Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures (CLP)
- Food Imitations (Safety) Regulations 1989
- The Trade Marks Regulations 2018
- Specifications for Candle Safety – BS EN 15493:2019
- Specifications for Product Warning Labels – BS EN 15494:2019
These all apply in Great Britain after Brexit. If you are selling to the EU and Northern Ireland, there are additional European regulations to follow.
Before you close this window and prepare for a bigger protection spell, let me tell you it is not as daunting as it first seems.
Now the good bit in the witches guide to not losing money
I know this looks far too complicated, but trade bodies have put together some great guides to help you out. I’ll put a few at the bottom of the post, and if you find any others that apply, please let me know.
One thing that they will all recommend is getting some form of insurance for your products or services. If you are a member of a guild or association there could be a members insurance scheme available, on condition you follow their practices and guidelines. You can also shop for brokers that can supply industry specific insurance quite cheaply. In either case your insurance will be invalid if you do not conform to the regulations.
There are a few regulations that will apply to everyone selling online, mainly the CCR and GDPR. The CCR covers selling goods and services in shops, off site and “at distance” (via phone or online).
The Consumer Contracts Regulations
These regulations cover the sale of goods and services in most situations. On and off site rules are concerned with purchases in person either in a shop or elsewhere like a home visit. The distance selling section is what I will be considering as it applies to online and telephone sales. There are certain things that you must do for the contract between you and the buyer to be legal and binding. If you use Etsy and eBay, they will provide most of this for you as part of their service, providing they handle the transaction of course.
Here is a basic guide to highlight some of the conditions you should be following. For more information see this guide.
What you need to be aware of
There are 24 conditions that might need satisfying for the transaction to be binding and comply with the CCR. The conditions most sellers will need to be aware of are: –
- provide a description of the goods or service, and the total price including VAT.
- Give your trading name and the physical address of your business (or home).
- A telephone number and email address. An online contact form or DM is not sufficient.
- Give details of all delivery charges and additional costs. If you don’t offer free postage on returns, you need to let customers know otherwise they can claim the money back off you.
- Inform customers that they can cancel or return a product for any reason. You must give them at least 14 days to decide.
- Must accept returns anytime in the next 12 months if you don’t follow the above point. If you tell them that you don’t accept returns, then you are breaking the law.
- Warn customers that if they use a returned product, they may not get all their money back. However, they can unpack or try items on.
- Need to provide the monthly costs for subscription services along with the conditions, time limits and cancellation policy.
- Highlight items that are exempt from cancellation rules e.g., bespoke and customised items, magazines. (check guidelines for items in this category)
Should I give my address?
Yes. Even if you operate from home, you must give an address so your customers can contact you. You must provide the information either before, or at the same time, as they receive their product or service and in a permanent form, either on paper or an email, not via a message. If you don’t want to give out your own address, the rules allow you to use a PO box or virtual address instead. This is so they can contact you with a problem and keeps negative comments on your site.
If there is an emergency relating to one of your products e.g., if a child swallows an essential oil blend, then the hospital might need to contact you for a list of ingredients. Therefore, you must put a contact telephone number on your packaging.
But I only sell customised products
Are they really customised or just options? According to the regulations, if you offer a candle in pink or blue, scented with either lavender or rose this is not a customisation. To be exempt, the customer would have to contact you and request something more than you normally offer. Bespoke similarly would be clearly personalised i.e., containing a name, not just an initial. Section 28 of the CCR states: –
- the supply of goods that are made to the consumer’s specifications or are clearly personalised.
Basically, if you offer the customer the choice from a set list of options, then they can cancel or return the item within 14 days.
General Data Protection Regulations GDPR
You will have some information about your customers, for example their names and addresses. This personal data, and as such there are rules on how you can store and use this data. In the UK, the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) oversees this and have a simple guide for businesses.
Again, if you sell through an online commerce website or use an online payment service such as PayPal, then most of this will be part of the service. If you sell by DM to social media or take money by bank transfer you may have to do some more work. The ICO has an assessment sheet to help with compliance.
A few more pieces of legislation that you should be aware of are: –
The Trade Mark Regulations
You produce and market a wax melt because it smells just like a well-known perfume, or you style your name or logo on another brands, and suddenly you receive a cease-and-desist letter in the post. All your effort, packaging and posts you have done, has now been a waste of time and money.
Did you know that the large fragrance houses trademark their perfume and aftershave names for use in candles, even though they may never make scented candles? Yankee trademarked the term ‘tart’ to mean a wax melt. That’s why no one uses the term apart from them.
You can check registered trademarks in the UK here. I have seen people using ™ and ® on their sites, but both are meaningless unless the trademark is government registered. If you use ® on a product that isn’t eligible then you could be guilty of misrepresentation. See below.
Unfair Trading Regulations
If you give misleading claims, statements, and omissions you could be committing an offence.
For example, if you say your product cures insomnia, gets rid of stretch mark or any other claim, then you need to be able to scientifically prove this. Similarly claiming your product is 100% natural, organic, or made in the UK, when it isn’t, is a breach of these regulations.
Statements such as ‘I am not responsible for any damage from my product’ or ‘no return policy’ will also be an offence.
It is also against the law to omit or conceal information that could affect a sale. If you list all the natural ingredients in a lotion, but omit that it contains a chemical preservative, then you are misleading customers.
Another way you could slip up is if you claimed a service was at a reduced price ‘for a limited time only’, then decided to keep it at that price going forward.
Hopefully, this has been some use to you, and your business can carry on being safe and successful.
Chartered Trading Standards Institute – Quick Guides (guides about almost every product)
British Candle Makers Federation – Candlemakers Advice Pack
Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association Ltd. (CTPA) – Making or Supplying a Cosmetic Product?
National Association of Jewellers – Guide to precious metal, nickel & hallmarking
And see my post on making candle and wax melts – Making Money from Wax