Sunday, March 09, 2008

Business urged to tell the truth online but Scots lawyers dare not do the same

Almost like teaching Granny to suck eggs, as some would say, but good advice as always for businesses is to tell the truth online otherwise you can expect trouble later on ...

However, Scots legal firms and lawyers dare not take their own advice because if the complaints histories and scandals of solicitors were to be on public display, no customers would ever dare come through the doors !

Just think how many clients would want to hire you if they found out you had been sued for negligence 14 times !

The Scotsman reports :

Let customers know the truth online or you can expect trouble


THE internet has become so familiar that it is hard to think of life without it. A website is a very versatile tool, no matter what your trade or profession. Having said that, it's important your site stays in line with the law.

Anyone who uses the internet regularly will know there are plenty of bogus web adverts and websites – and users are often being misled by even genuine traders. As a result, there has been much controversy in recent years surrounding the way in which airlines in particular advertise prices. Consumers are tempted by "unbeatable" or "unmissable" deals. To provide an example, an airline ticket might be advertised for 1p, but after taxes, fuel fees and other charges, the actual price is likely to be around £50.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has taken action against numerous airlines for advertising in such a way. Ryanair, having missed an OFT deadline to remove misleading prices from its site, shut down the site for three days in an attempt to meet OFT standards. This will have proved very expensive for them.

To address these offenders, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) carries out spot-checks on random commercial websites and handles specific complaints. If "irregularities" are uncovered, the ASA can ask the OFT to carry out a thorough investigation and take whatever action is necessary. The law is being changed to make it favour the consumer even more.

This isn't just for airlines! To stay in line with the law, it is important for your business to operate an accurate, unambiguous site. Consumer protection is on the rise and businesses must adequately protect themselves from legal action. It is also good business. It is simpler to quote actual prices inclusive of all extras than to mislead the consumer and face the legal consequences.

This is the time to eradicate any misleading statements or unfair contract terms lurking on your site. One thing which is very important when dealing with customers is sellers ensuring the ordering process requires the customers to acknowledge reading and agreeing to the seller's terms and conditions. Best practice is to ensure terms and conditions are included as a distinct 'gateway' in the sales process which can't be avoided and which requires the customer to do something (such as clicking an "agree" button) before proceeding to place an order.

You should make sure you:

*advertise in clear and unambiguous terms;

*display key information;

*ensure you do not have additional services available which are set to "yes" by default – this is a trap for the consumer and can be regarded as unfair;

*have adequate disclaimers in place where appropriate;

*have terms and conditions clearly displayed and easily accessible;

*correct any possible irregularities on your website as soon as you become aware of them.

Jennifer McMullan is a trainee solicitor at CCW.

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