The Great European Wotsit!?

Just ducked a call from another journalist, asking for comment on the European Union’s eCommerce directive, something that I was up to speed on last year but since then, have conveniently ignored, much like the rest of the population, including our own Government, as the 17th January deadline for compliance passed.

So do you know what it is? Are you following the rules or will you be getting a visit from EuroPol in the distant future?

The answer is ‘Probably not’ but in reality, the directive is all about creating an agreed-upon structure for the conduct of eCommerce within the European Union, which embraces both business and consumer rights, which of course vary greatly between the member states. In reality and not much of a surprise, we missed the implementation deadline in this country but The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has published a draft of the regulations for businesses to consult if they aren’t sure of what it all means, which in most cases means just about everyone outside of the DTI.

So I have been looking at my own Web site and I’m pleased to say that I’m unlikely to be sent on a one way trip to Devil’s Island just yet. None the less, there’s the inevitable red tape to cut through. Is your VAT number on your website? Your email and contact details? Nothing annoys me more than Websites that don’t have telephone numbers. One of the worst offenders I can remember was First E, the Internet bank. Everything had to be done by email and it didn’t occur to them that customers might occasionally wish to talk to someone in an emergency.

Consistency across commercial websites isn’t a bad idea and it’s certainly good for customers who can’t tell the difference between a reputable on-line business and a shady Web service but at least can look for clues from what they see or can’t see.

The challenge I suspect for businesses who might be considered to be trading over the web will lie in meeting the contractual regulations described in the EU Directive and from our own point of view, these remain draft regulations “under construction” until the beginning of next month.

I would recommend that every business with a web presence at least consults the DTI web page on what the regulations are, chapter and verse and at the same time, starts adding in a Web page called ‘Legal’ to their website, rather like I have on my own. This is where you can start to tuck in most of the detail that you will need to have in place once the EU Directive becomes law over here.

Perhaps the best advice going forward, is that if you have a Website, think ‘Euro’ from now on, even if you don’t accept the currency.

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