16 Jan 2009

Please excuse me while I rant a little

I can’t claim to be a very patient or tolerant person. I’m irked by all manner of things. Anything from throwing something into the bin, with seemingly good aim, just to see it veer off of its own accord and miss, to the global injustices of governments and international corporations, can equally get my goat.

As well as selling on-line, I do a lot of buying from my desk too. I like to support small artisans such as myself where possible and also enjoy the convenience of buying supplies and household goods without necessarily needing to be dressed or washed.

But I do have some principles and selection criteria when it comes to choosing a supplier. I like good service. I like to feel that my purchase is appreciated and that I’m getting a little direct and personal attention from the staff or artisan I’m dealing with. I try and give my customers the kind of service I like to receive. On venues like Etsy, I do tend to view the profiles and policies of sellers and there are a few things that will turn me off a seller.

Some of these are personal peeves beyond the scope of this page, but some are valid business concerns. One in particular will prevent me blessing a shop with my custom – a stated policy that the seller has no responsibility for the item once it is in the post. Or that the buyer must pay for insurance on items in transit in order to protect their purchase in case of loss. Wrong. wrong, wrong, plain wrong.

Distance Selling Regulations:

Whilst on Etsy, there are many nationalities represented, I understand that this legal principle is pretty much the same in most major markets – legislation is in place to protect the consumer – and as sellers we have a legal and moral responsibility to ensure we are familiar with our obligations and meet them.

In the UK where I am, we have the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000. In the US, similar principles are upheld by the Federal Trade Commission. The basic premise under English law is that the seller has certain obligations to the buyer, on account of them being unable to inspect the goods before committing to the purchase.

The seller has to accurately describe and illustrate the item for sale, along with clearly displayed prices, taxes and salient features of the sale, including delivery options and times, payment methods and cancellation procedures etc. They are obligated to supply it, as described and illustrated, within 30 days – although this can be extended with agreed negotiation. If you are supplying substitute goods this must be agreed beforehand. If you are unable to supply the goods or services within 30 days, you are obligated to make a full refund, including post and packing charges. ‘Unable to supply’ also covers items lost in transit.

Sellers should not charge the customer for insurance:

In the English legislation, it very clearly specifies that the seller can not charge the buyer for insuring the items when in transit, as the seller still retains title on the goods and is responsible for them, until the buyer takes delivery of them and accepts the goods – this is ‘a risk the owner of the goods should bear’.

I regularly see sellers both shirking from their responsibility for items in transit (you may have little control, but you’re still responsible) and trying to foist the cost of insurance onto the buyer – and refusing to be culpable without its purchase. This is simply not appropriate. The seller is the one being offered protection by the purchase of insurance, not the consumer. You’re asking them to pay again for a right the law already provides them with. You, the seller, will benefit by claiming against your insurance protection, not the buyer.

Buy insurance or take the risk?

As a seller, I decide myself – on a per order basis – how I would feel if the item went astray in transit and I had to make good to the buyer. How easily could I re-make the item and would I be prepared to, for the value of the sale? If the item is easily replaceable and the materials to hand, I probably risk it in the normal post without additional insurance. If I can’t easily re-make it, or would not be comfortable doing so, I pay for my own insurance. That benefits me and makes no difference whatsoever to my customer. They will either get their goods, or a refund, as that is what the law – and my conscience – already determines they’re entitled to.

The contract to transport items is between the seller and carrier:

There is a secondary issue here which often leads to misunderstanding too. When a seller sends an item off to their customer, the contract to transmit the item – through the post or other carrier – is between the seller and the carrier. The seller owns the item at this point and has paid for the carrier service – the buyer plays no part in this.

You have entrusted your item to their care and paid for that service. If the item fails to arrive, then it is the seller’s duty to investigate and instigate any claim for compensation from the carrier, if appropriate, within the limits of the service purchased. This is of little consequence to the buyer – their only concern is to pay for the goods and sit patiently and wait for them to arrive.

Ignorance is no defence:

If you’re selling on-line and in a position to take money from people, it is requisite to at least learn about your legal obligations to your customers. Taking an inappropriate stance may – at best – cost you business from people like me that are easily irked when feeling short-changed by a seller’s inappropriate and ill-informed principles. At worst – you could find yourself with an expensive and inconvenient legal problem to overcome.

Some useful links:

UK Office of Fair Trading: http://www.oft.gov.uk/
An OFT .pdf called A guide for businesses on distance selling
UK Distance Selling Regulations, full legislation: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2000/20002334.htm
Federal Trade Commission in the US: http://www.ftc.gov/

3 thoughts on “Please excuse me while I rant a little

  1. Very informative boo. thank you.

    I’ve amended a couple of things within my policies after reading this, as I realised mine weren’t clear enough. Although I always replace/or refund for lost package.

  2. very interesting – I get equally peeved when a seller feels their resposibility ends rather earlier than I would like, but hadn’t known there was a legal edge to that.

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