The Law Clerk Writes…. Sale By Description

The Law Clerk Writes…. “With my law degree out of the way, I do some work as a Litigation Assistant and I am also involved in my own long running Small Claims case. The Law fascinates me and it concerns me how disconnected most people are from it so part of my goal is to try and explain how it works to ‘ordinary’ people like online sellers”.

A thumbnail sketch of Sale of Goods Act 1979 Section 13 – Sale By Description as it applies in England and Wales.

Sale of Goods ActThis is a highly compressed general overview of the Sale of Goods Act Section 13. Bear in mind that English Law is, by design, somewhat fuzzy.

Sales which are not ‘by description’ are rare as almost all sales will be based on some element of description however it is given. Whether you’re selling on your website, eBay or other marketplaces the chances are that you’re creating descriptions on a daily basis so Section 13 of the Sale of Goods Act applies to you.

Not everything said, in words or images, about a product is part of its description. “Wicked bass notes on these cans” is just hot air, on the other hand “Can sustain a 20Hz calibrated test tone for 2 minutes with only 1% variation” is descriptive. Facts, numbers, measurements are descriptive, opinions are often not.

There must be reliance, that is, the buyer must be relying on the description being made good. Something said after the sale is concluded cannot be said to have been relied upon in concluding the sale.

For sales to consumers, adherence to the description is strict, any breach is serious and goods can be rejected. The fact that any flaw can easily be corrected is irrelevant.

A breach in a sale to non consumers can, under Section 15A, be treated as a less serious breach of warranty for slight breaches.

Section 13 of the Sale of Goods Act is closely linked to Section 14 “Quality and Fitness” but is much stronger for consumers.

Next time you’re creating a description, make sure you’re aware what’s substantive fact and what’s opinion. Are you giving the buyer all the information that they need and are your facts correct?