What Are the Different Types of Distance Selling Regulations?

Mary McMahon

Distance selling regulations can include a range of policies on the handling of remote sales transactions. These offer protection for consumers and can account for some specific concerns that may arise when products are sold without personal physical contact. Individual countries have their own regulations that companies must comply with when doing business within their borders. These rules can become more complex when they involve international trade, when it is not always clear where jurisdiction lies.

A company selling baked goods that offers gluten-free products must ensue that they are really gluten-free.
A company selling baked goods that offers gluten-free products must ensue that they are really gluten-free.

Some distance selling regulations cover basic consumer protection, including bans on fraudulent activity, misleading advertisements, or the provision of incorrect information in the course of a sale. Businesses that handle remote transactions cannot, for example, use credit cards inappropriately, and must provide truth in advertising. This includes creating descriptions of products and services that are accurate and complete. For example, a company selling baked goods that offers gluten-free products must ensue that they are actually gluten-free.

Clear communication often plays an important role in distance selling regulations, because of concerns that consumers rely totally on information as stated since they cannot handle goods before purchase. This includes descriptions of products and services, clear cancellation and return policies, and appropriately worded guarantees and warranties. Companies must provide a mechanism for returning damaged goods for repair or replacement, for example, and need to allow consumers to cancel orders if they change their minds within a certain time period.

Some distance selling regulations also pertain to marketing and sales tactics. Companies may be subject to advertising standards laws that ban certain kinds of ads or restrict the venues where ads can run. Contents of ads must also be truthful. Consumers can be protected from unsolicited advertisements or shipments of products; goods sent without a specific request, for example, do not create an obligation for the recipient, under many regulations.

Health and safety laws can also be included under distance selling regulations. Products need to confirm to basic standards and companies may need to provide documentation on their safety testing and quality assurance procedures. Contaminated and unsafe products can be subject to recall and seizure. If a company knowingly sells them, it can be fined, and individuals responsible for the sale may face penalties like jail time or suits in civil court.

Business with concerns about compliance can often obtain plain language guides from government agencies. Members of the public can consult consumer advocacy agencies or groups to get information about distance selling regulations. If violations are suspected, they can be reported to the appropriate regulatory authorities.

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