Online endorsements

As business owners we know that a positive online endorsement can help sell our products and services.

Checking out blogs, vlogs and other online endorsements is an increasingly common way for people to decide what particular product or service to buy.

It is not illegal for businesses to pay people or publications to promote their products in online articles.

BUT the people that publish such content, both the businesses that want to get their products endorsed and any media agencies that place endorsements all need to make sure that the consumer knows that the endorsement has been paid for.

Misleading consumers may breach consumer protection law. Also the UK Advertising Codes, published by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), contain rules to ensure marketing communications are easily identifiable.

As a retailer do I have to charge the price advertised on goods?

This is an interesting question which the group I was in debated at the F2 Business Huddle on Friday 10th February 2017.

Funnily enough on 13th February the BBC reported that customers of a large retail brand are being overcharged by out of date offers read more…

Without going into too much detail of contract law, the price marked on goods is called an invitation to treat. The customer offers an amount of money which may be accepted by the retailer (or it may not). Of course, if the customer’s offer is the same as the amount marked on the goods the retailer is more likely to accept it, but the important point is that they don’t have to.

That is why a retailer is perfectly correct to refuse to sell a 50″ Flat Screen TV which has been mis-priced at £49.99 when it should be £349.99. What they should do is withdraw it from sale rather than just charging the higher price. Because if the retailer charges more than the price marked on the goods then they may breach The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. This is also the case when the till is programmed with a higher price to that marked on the goods.

Do remember that, although not often used in retail shops in the UK, haggling is perfectly feasible.

What is a legal trading entity?

The legal name of a business is the name of the person or entity that owns it. This is the legal trading entity.

If the business is a sole trader then the legal name is the last name with or without initials or forenames of the owner.

For unincorporated partnership, the legal name is the last names with or without initials or forenames of all of the partners.

For limited liability companies, partnerships and corporations, the business’ legal name is the one that was registered with Companies House including Ltd, LLP, PLC etc.

A trade or business name is the name a business uses for advertising and sales purposes that is different from the legal name described above.

Although a trade name may sometimes also be a trademark, a trade name is not, in itself, a form of intellectual property.

It is a requirement that businesses do not hide behind a trading name so whenever one is used there is a requirement to disclose the legal name and an address at which documents can be served on the business (for registered entities there are other disclosure requirements as well).

If you are unable to easily find out the name and address of a trader I would strongly recommend not doing business with them.

The Care Home my Dad is staying in has posted his photo on Facebook, is this OK?

When promoting services it is easy to forget that there are rules about how you use photographs of individuals.

A photograph of someone is personal data and should only be used with consent.

The terms of business of the Care home may attempt to cover this. However, it does depend on who signs the agreement:

  • If it is not the data subject then their consent will not have been given.
  • If the data subject signs, but does not have capacity then again consent will not have been given.

The Data Protection Act gives a right to the data subject to object to processing that is likely to cause or is causing damage or distress. In addition Facebook’s terms say that nothing should be done to infringe someone’s rights, (Facebook terms of service clause 5.1).

In practice it is worth remembering that:

  • any consent can be withdrawn in writing;
  • a complaint could be registered with the Information Commissioners Office, ICO who can impose monetary penalties of up to £500,000; and
  • a complaint could be made to Facebook, which if upheld could compromise that marketing channel.

In addition the Care Quality Commission (CQC), who inspect all care homes, look to see that the fundamental standards are maintained.

To this end clients must be treated with dignity and respect at all times while they are receiving care and treatment. This includes making sure that they have privacy when they need and want it.

They must also be able to complain about their care and treatment. The care provider must have a system in place so they can handle and respond to complaints. They must investigate them thoroughly and take action if problems are identified.

Failure to meet the fundamental standard may result in various sanctions and can affect the care homes rating which has to be displayed in the places where they provide care and on their website, if they have one.

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Do you use testimonials?

The UK’s consumer protection and competition authority, the CMA, is going to look at the way businesses use online reviews and endorsements after concerns were raised about their “trustworthiness” and “impartiality”.

It will include those on web blogs, video blogs, social media, specialist review sites, trusted trader sites, retail platforms, and retailers’ own websites.

The roles that media companies, online reputation managers and search engine optimisers play in helping businesses to promote their products/services and manage their reputations in relation to these sites, will be included.

A spokesperson said “While the growth in the use of online reviews and endorsements has the potential to empower consumers to make more informed purchasing decisions, businesses can benefit too. Recommendations from reviews or bloggers can pull in new customers, feedback from consumers can help suppliers to improve customer services, and blogs and social media provide new opportunities to advertise and promote products and services. Conversely, false or misleading reviews or endorsements have the potential to mislead consumers and harm businesses.”