Contact Details are not just for Show
A while ago I wrote an article about “Why isn’t someone using my software product, service or open source tool? But it is so cool!”¹ to express my view on how to pitch someone — make it brief, but do not hide any facts — , and now I had a quite interesting discussion about “shiny startups” and their allegedly inability to provide proper contact information on their websites.
Creating and maintaining trust — nothing is more important in e-commerce than this motto
Therefore, I wanted to take a closer look at this topic and check if it really is just an inability or if they even have to hide their company information.
Creating and maintaining trust is most important in e-commerce, and it would surprise me if someone disregards that. So, I was looking up European Union and United States directives as well as WTO agreements to get a better feeling on this matter.
And as one would expect, you should not be surprised that there is an EU directive for that. In June 2000 the directive 2000/31/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on certain legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market² was issued. A directive is a legal act of the EU, which requires member states to achieve a particular result without dictating the means of achieving that result. Directives normally leave member states with a certain amount of leeway as to the exact rules to be adopted.
Anyhow, Article 5 №1 of this directive describes it very clearly in my opinion:
In addition to other information requirements established by Community law, Member States shall ensure that the service provider shall render easily, directly and permanently accessible to the recipients of the service and competent authorities, at least the following information:
- the name of the service provider
- the geographic address at which the service provider is established
- the details of the service provider, including his electronic mail address, which allow him to be contacted rapidly and communicated with in a direct and effective manner
- where the service provider is registered in a trade or similar public register, the trade register in which the service provider is entered and his registration number, or equivalent means of identification in that register
- where the activity is subject to an authorisation scheme, the particulars of the relevant supervisory authority
- where the service provider undertakes an activity that is subject to VAT, the identification number referred to in Article 22(1) of the sixth Council Directive 77/388/EEC of 17 May 1977 on the harmonisation of the laws of the Member States relating to turnover taxes — Common system of value added tax: uniform basis of assessment
- as concerns the regulated professions:
- any professional body or similar institution with which the service provider is registered
- the professional title and the Member State where it has been granted
- a reference to the applicable professional rules in the Member State of establishment and the means to access them
Well, there is a lot more to it than just Article 5 №1, but it is an interesting start, because many websites I have seen — unfortunately from the EU — are failing those. That is quite odd, because this means that it might be at least an administrative offence in some jurisdictions.
However, let’s look at a concrete example from the UK newspapers the Guardian³ and the Telegraph⁴. Those are providing the address to their offices, phone numbers and email addresses. After reading this directive, I would have expected to also find the name of the trade register and a registration number as well as a value added tax identification number, but either it does not apply or it is insufficient.
Another example will be from the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung⁵. The information was quite easy to find and they are providing their office address, phone numbers, email addresses, but also the registration court, registration number, value added tax identification number and the managing directors. Very extensive, but it seems to me like that they are in accordance with the regulations.
Finally, a further example from Apple Ireland⁶. Their information was also quite easy to find and they are providing all information that I expected. On the other hand, it is surprising that Apple is only in Europe so open with these information, because on other Apple sites, such as U.S., Canada or Mexico some of these details are missing. One might think that this openness would be due only to the EU directive.
So, I wanted to take a closer look and as expected, I could not find such a requirement or studies for the U.S. or Canada. Unfortunately, my search at the WTO was also unsuccessful. Either the WTO does not care or they are not responsible respectively without a mandate. Well, compared to the other topics they have, this may be relatively insignificant for them. However, if there is any material and someone can send me a link, I would like to see it.
Let’s take a look on some numbers. According to a study by TrustedShop⁷, 2% of participating online retailers had been given a written warning in 2017 because of incorrect or insufficient information in their imprint. In addition, they were asked if these cease-and-desist warnings were an existential risk. 51% of those surveyed stated yes. There were 1,530 subjects in this study. 2% means that we are talking about 30 online retailers that got a warning. The absolute number does not sound that alarming, but if you are one of them, then it will look different.
Anyways, coming back to the starting point: If you are running a company or start something new, then it would be very advisable if you provide proper contact information.
- If you are based in the EU, then just do it — it is the law, because this directive was transposed into national law⁸ long ago.
- If you are based outside the EU and therefore not obliged to provide these details, then just do yourself a favour and provide those without any restrictions.
Especially in view of GDPR it definitely makes sense to have ones company information on the website. It makes life so much easier for customers or potential partners to know who they are dealing with. Trust creates business.
¹ https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-isnt-someone-using-my-software-product-service-open-sattler/ Retrieved 28.12.2017
² http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex:32000L0031 Retrieved 28.12.2017
³ https://www.theguardian.com/help/contact-us Retrieved 28.12.2017
⁴ https://corporate.telegraph.co.uk/contact-us/ Retrieved 28.12.2017
⁵ http://www.sueddeutsche.de/tools/impressum Retrieved 28.12.2017
⁶ https://www.apple.com/ie/contact/ Retrieved 28.12.2017
⁷ https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/603347/1-TX_B2B/Whitepaper/171123_TEX_Abmahnstudie%202017.pdf Retrieved 28.12.2017
⁸ http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/NIM/?uri=celex%3A32000L0031 Retrieved 28.12.2017