When information regarding price, quality, services and products is not available, it is impossible for customers or clients to make fully considered judgments about the goods and services they purchase. As such, it is generally considered to be a basic responsibility of a business to provide essential information about its products that is easily-accessible, reasonably complete, not confusing and stated in plain and understandable language.
When selling products and services, certain core areas are generally covered by consumer protection law. In the UK this includes safety, pricing, weights and measures, descriptions of products and services, the contract between a buyer and seller, competition between businesses, intellectual property and counterfeiting.
Businesses that are selling services, to individuals or other businesses, have further obligations and some sectors are more tightly regulated than others. For example, under UK law, the main features of the service being offered should be explicit, if not already apparent from the context. Generally, if the price is not pre-determined, a business must be able to supply a detailed estimate so that a client can use the proposed method to calculate the cost, check the figures and arrive at the price. Service providers may need to provide the terms and conditions used, including information on any contract terms that are governed by the law of a particular country ('the English courts have jurisdiction' or 'this contract is governed by Scottish law'). Further, as an after-sales guarantee may not be imposed by law, it is best practice to make clear whether such a guarantee exists or not.
When working within a regulated profession, best practice dictates that details of the associated regulatory regime be clear. Sometimes, professional liability insurance or a guarantee is a legal requirement. When so, information about insurance cover, contact details of the insurer and territorial coverage should be available to the client. Often, the professional body will provide additional complaint and dispute resolution services to help the public make complaints against professional members and this information might also be made available to clients.
However, consumer protection legislation is not exhaustive. For example, the consumer group Which? has campaigned for many years to ensure that health claims made about an increasing number of foods and food supplements are supported by verifiable evidence. This has been an EU regulation since 2006 but the list of verified claims is still to be agreed.
Even when it is not mandatory, therefore, good practice suggests that businesses should make certain that service information and product labelling provides relevant and fair information. Ideally, any claims that are made about a product or service will also be supported by factual evidence and not be based solely on the opinion of the manufacturer or service provider.
Insufficient, inaccurate or misleading information can damage customer confidence, risk legal challenge, introduce health and safety risks and threaten business reputation.