Setting up a mail order business

If you are looking to set up a mail order business, there are several issues you need to be aware of, such as legislation that applies to distance selling, delivery of goods and returns and data protection.

The Mail Order Traders Association (MOTA), which represents the home shopping catalogue industry and which operates a code of practice on behalf of member companies and their customers, can offer you guidance on the above issues.

It says that all distance selling businesses must ensure that they trade in compliance with applicable law, which includes legislation about the following: trades descriptions; product safety and labelling; price marking; sale of goods; unfair contract terms; unfair terms in consumer contracts; and business names.

“Presumably you will be considering the manner in which goods and merchandise is despatched to customers. In so far as any ‘monopoly’ mailings are concerned, obviously you will be dealing with Royal Mail, and it may be here that if your outward, and indeed, inward volumes are of sufficient size, you will be able to negotiate special terms with Royal Mail,” explains MOTA.

It adds that if your postings are in the shape of packets and parcels which exceed in weight the monopoly service, then you might well consider entering into bulk contract negotiations with Royal Mail and any other carriers. It suggests that you initially discuss the position with your local head postmaster.

As Samantha Hambury, a legal adviser with the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) points out, if you are looking to set up a mail order business, you need to ensure that any data you collect is done so legally.

“If you are looking to set up, for example, a mail order sportswear business, and you will be sending out catalogues, you will need to buy or source a list from a list owner,” she advises. “With sportswear, you might be looking at a specific age group, such as the 18-30s, and you give these preferences to the list owners. But you need to ensure that data is being collected in a legal way – so ask to see a contract from the list owner. If anything goes wrong, this will give you some leeway,”

She adds that you also need to consider issues such as data security and the inclusion of an address for an individual to write to if they do not want to receive the catalogue.

For more information on distance selling, contact the DMA on

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