Retail to e-tail: the legal considerations

By Edward Bouckley, Birketts
The high street is in trouble, it has been for years. It is hard to pin-point exactly when this decline started, but since the late 2000s, one by one, major brands have been disappearing from our high streets.
Published in Norfolk Director Magazine Autumn/Winter 2020
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This decline has largely been attributed to the rise of e-commerce with online platforms for many consumers offering an easier, more convenient, and cheaper shopping experience.

COVID-19 accelerating the downward spiral

As is well documented, COVID-19 has accelerated this downward spiral. More retailers have gone out of business, with others being forced into administration. The forced closure of all non-essential shops in March left consumers with nowhere to go other than online. Even those retailers selling essential items have seen a significant increase in online sales since March.

Although consumers are now tentatively returning to the high street, the length of the lockdown was enough for some consumers to change their shopping habits for good. For others, social distancing measures and the requirement to wear facemasks is hampering their return. In addition, increased working from home and restrictions on hospitality will only see footfall in towns and cities remain low for the foreseeable future.

In the face of changeable and unpredictable COVID related restrictions, it is hard to see the high street returning to pre-COVID levels any time soon. This means that for many retailers, survival depends on making up lost in-store sales, online. However, selling online is a fundamentally different proposition to selling in-store and brings with it and arguably greater risks. These risks require careful navigation.

Online retailers have obligations

Both consumer and data protection laws place significant obligations on online retailers. The law also gives consumers buying online more rights than they otherwise would have. Failing to comply with the law when selling online can have severe consequences including regulatory investigations and fines, increased costs, and reputational damage. However, if done right, online retail can be a retailer’s lifeline and a means of not only getting through this tough time, but a way of growing and increasing revenue above pre-COVID levels.

For many smaller retailers, any significant online sales presence is likely to be a new proposition. From a legal perspective, getting advice on online selling can be difficult, not to mention costly. However, Birketts understands this and in order to help retailers get online, we have produced a “retail to e-tail” guide to enable retailers to make the transition. The guide contains all the documentation a retailer needs to start selling goods online lawfully. In addition, it also contains user-friendly and practical guidance on the information a retailer is legally required to display on its website and how best to handle consumer payments.

The guide has been designed so that it can be completed by the retailer without the need for any significant involvement from a lawyer. Priced at £600 + VAT the guide represents an incredibly cost-effective way for a retailer to start benefitting from selling online, safe in the knowledge that they are operating on the right side of the law.

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Edward Bouckley is an Associate at Birketts LLP. For more information about the retail to e-tail guide: T: 01603 756535 or

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