Terms and Conditions are one of the hardest parts of online selling to get right. Ignorance of the law is no defense and there are two main pieces of legislation which all sellers need to abide by – the Electronic Commerce Regulations and Distance Selling Regulations and the Sale of Goods Act.

In general, these pieces of legislation are intended to protect consumers, so unsurprisingly they appear weighted against merchants, however by following their guidelines it’s possible to limit your liabilities so it’s worth spending the time to become familiar with them.


There are four main things a buyer is concerned about when considering a purchase:

What does it cost?

What will the shipping cost?

Can I return the item if it’s not what I wanted?

Is there a warranty, what happens if something goes wrong?

The first two are easily solved – the price of the product is either the BUY IT NOW price or the winning bid on an auction. Shipping costs should be clearly entered for each country that you ship to and for each delivery service that you offer at the time of listing so that the buyer knows exactly what they’ll be paying.

Returns are something that no retailer likes, but online consumers don’t have the opportunity to examine the goods prior to purchase. The Distance Selling Regulations set out their right to examine the goods in their own home and return them for any (or no) reason. As the merchant you are obliged to offer a full refund including postage costs, but you can if you wish specify that the buyer pays the return carriage costs. You can also limit the period of returns to 7 working days from receipt of the goods but only if this is specified in your Terms and Conditions.

Warranties and the goods being fit for purpose are covered by the Sale of Goods Act, and in this case, buyers have up to 6 months to request repair/replacement or refund. They are also covered up to 6 years but in that case, it’s the buyers obligation to prove that the goods weren’t fit for purpose, for the first 6 months it’s the sellers responsibility to prove that they were of merchandisable quality, although of course manufacturers warranties cover many items for a year or more in any case.

There is nothing more off-putting to consumers than rafts of small print, so it’s worth keeping your Terms and Conditions of sale out of your main listing template. On eBay this has been made easy as eBay provide separate sections for Returns Policy, Sellers Payment Instructions, Pricing and VAT, Shipping Costs and Terms and Conditions of Sale. If you use Froo templates they provide tabbed content boxes where you can add additional information for buyers if they wish to view it.

“There is nothing more off-putting to consumers than rafts of small print, so it’s worth keeping your Terms and Conditions of sale out of your main listing template.”

Although from a legal standpoint it’s important to publish your terms and conditions in general buyers are more interested in knowing that if something goes wrong you are there to help them. Make sure that your full contact details are available including your name (or business name), your address, your email address and of course your phone number. Nothing is more effective in avoiding PayPal or eBay dispute than simply giving your buyer the opportunity to communicate.

This doesn’t just stop on your eBay listings or website, whenever you ship an item include an invoice with your contact details and/or a business card. If there is a problem and your buyer has your number to hand they are much more likely to telephone and give you the opportunity to assist than to log onto eBay to open a dispute.

In general the shorter your terms and conditions the more buyer friendly they are so as well as publishing your full terms and conditions it’s worth summarising them with a link to your Terms and Conditions on a separate page.

Ultimately your terms and conditions are there to protect you legally, and to ensure that buyers are provided with the information proscribed by law. In reality there are very few buyers who will invoke their legal rights – most simply want to receive their goods or if there is an issue to have the problem resolved. This means that your Terms and Conditions are there to protect you as the seller but like insurance hopefully they are something you will never have to use.

If you think like a buyer and act towards them as you would like a company to treat you, and especially if you give your customers the ability to contact you, almost all problem can be amicably resolved resulting in a happy customer without recourse to eBay or PayPal disputes.

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