Businesses have obligations to their consumers around consumer guarantees and misleading conduct. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) regulates this area (as well as the Competition and Markets Authority) to ensure a fair and honest transaction between businesses and their consumers. 

In this article, we’ll highlight three important obligations your small business owes to your consumers. We’ll also discuss what you are owed as a small business interacting with other businesses. 

1. Your Obligations When You Advertise Online 

Everyone wants their business to look as good as possible online. However, this information has to be accurate and truthful. It does not matter if you intend to make false or misleading advertising laws. 

This is the reason that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) wants small business owners to be aware of the law surrounding false or misleading advertising. This is why it’s important to know what false or misleading advertising is, what makes it illegal and the penalties. 

What Counts As False Or Deceptive Advertising?

False or deceptive advertising is advertising that contains statements that aren’t true or create a false impression. You should alway be aware of what the overall impression your advertising gives. 

Some examples of potentially false or misleading advertising practices are: 

  • Comparing your product to another. If you are comparing your product to another in an online advert you must be careful. You can legally compare the price, quality, range or volume of your products. However, if you falsely claim your product is superior, this will count as a false or misleading claim. 
  • Advertising an unavailable discount or sale. It is commonplace to advertise a sale when your business has one available. However, if the sale is disingenuous or extremely limited it may be labelled as ‘bait advertising.’ This is advertising that is designed to bring the customer in under an impression of getting a deal but then not offering the deal. 

So, What Makes It Illegal? 

Consumer law is the area of law which governs advertising by businesses, online or not. Specifically, for false and misleading advertising, it’s a good idea to read through the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.

 This set of rules regulates the way businesses advertise to consumers and prohibit any deceptive marketing practices, particularly under the Consumer Rights Act 2015

2. Your Obligations Regarding Online Reviews Of Your Business

A lot of consumers base their decision on where to spend their money on online reviews. It is an important part of a business with an online presence to manage and maintain. However, online review platforms can also be easily hoodwinked. As a business owner, you cannot make or allow untrue reviews to be made on your platform. The reviews need to be genuine. 

A review cannot be portrayed as genuine if it was written by yourself or someone in your business, a business you directly compete with, a paid reviewer who falsely claims to have experienced your product. 

But I Have Seen Businesses Offer Free Food For Reviews Before? 

Offering incentives for reviews is legal. However, the incentive needs to be available for anyone who makes a review – good or bad. You must also let all prospective reviewers know if they leave a review – good or bad – the incentive is still available. 

What About Editing Online Reviews? 

As a business, you are encouraged to edit your online reviews – if they are fake, false or misleading. While a one star may bring your average star countdown, you should still not edit or delete this review because it is misleading.

You should always read the policy of the platform on which people review your product. These policies contain instructions of when you should edit your reviews and complying with their policy will likely keep you out of trouble. 

Alternatively, if there was a misunderstanding between your services/product and the customer, you can always reach out to them to rectify the issue. If successful, you could ask them to change their rating of your business. 

What Are The Consequences? 

If your online reviews make a false or misleading representation to your consumers, then you will likely face legal consequences under the Consumer Rights Act. This is because it will qualify as misleading and deceptive conduct. 

3. Do I Have Any Obligations After The Customer Clicks Away?

You must guarantee your product or service. A guarantee is a promise that your product or service will be as you said, suggested or advertised it would be.  These guarantees apply automatically and are separate to any warranties you may offer. 

These are known as consumer guarantees. 

So, What Must I Guarantee Exactly? 

There are different guarantees that you must offer if you are dealing with a product or a service. 

You must guarantee your product:

  • Is of acceptable quality. 
    • I.e. it matches descriptions of the product made, it is fit for its purpose, comes with no hidden charges, the possession of the product by your customer cannot be challenged. 
  • Looks acceptable 
  • Works/operates/exists as it would normally be expected to

You must guarantee your service:

  • Is provided carefully, skillfully and with any technical knowledge needed. 
  • All steps are taken to avoid damage or loss
  • The service provides the result promised
  • The service is provided in the time frame that you promised or in a reasonable time when there is no agreed date

What Happens If My Product Or Service Does Not Live Up To Its Guarantee?

The customer has a right to compensation if your product does not live up to its guarantee. This compensation comes in different forms according to if you are offering a product or a service. 

If you are selling a product and it fails the guarantee, your customer has the legally enforceable right to a:

  • Refund, 
  • Replacement, 
  • Repair 

If you are selling a service and it fails, your customer has the legally enforceable right to a:

  • Cancellation of the service or,
  • If loss or damage has occurred – a right to compensation for said loss or damage. 

As A Small Business, Am I A Consumer?

Of course! As a business you need to interact with other businesses. This means you are a consumer and can be protected under the same consumer laws mentioned above. 

It’s advised that as a small business, you do thorough checks of your processes when you interact or advertise to customers. It’s worth having certain policies or disclaimers in place to protect yourself. 

For example, you might have a policy that outlines the steps you’ll take if a product you sell to customers is defective. This is known as a Warranties Against Defects Policy (our lawyers can draft one for your business – get in touch with us for a free consultation!). 

Still Unsure? 

Getting your rights and obligations to the consumer is really important. Knowing what obligations you owe as a small business helps you know what rights you have when interacting with other businesses as well! 

If you are unsure of an obligation that you are owed or owe a customer, our team of legal consultants are happy to chat with you to discuss your options. Get in touch with us at [email protected] or on 08081347754 for a free, no-obligations chat

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