January 2, 2013, 1:19 PM

The FTC expands product labeling requirements for e-retailers

Some merchants will have to change the design of product pages.

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The Federal Trade Commission on Dec. 31 approved amendments to the Appliance Labeling Rule that will affect how e-retailers design product detail pages for items covered by the rule.

Until now, web retailers were able to display abbreviated, text-only energy disclosures on product pages for most products covered by the rule and be compliant. The new amendments require e-retailers to either display the full EnergyGuide or Lighting Facts label on the product page or display an FTC-provided icon that links to the product’s label.

E-retailers that sell televisions had to contend with similar changes to labeling requirements in 2011. The amendments approved last week expand those labeling and icon requirements to all products covered by the Appliance Labeling Rule. These include: refrigerators, refrigerator-freezers, freezers, room air conditioners, clothes washers, dishwashers, ceiling fans, pool heaters, central air conditioners, heat pumps, furnaces and general service lamps.

Other products also require that additional operational information be displayed, although they do not have a specific label or icon associated with them. These products are covered showerheads, faucets, water closets, urinals, general service fluorescent lamps, fluorescent lamp ballasts and metal halide lamp fixtures. E-retailers that sell faucets or showerheads, for example, will have to include how many gallons of water per minute flow through those products.

The new amendments require e-retailers to display the applicable label or icon “clearly and conspicuously and in close proximity to the covered product’s price” so that consumers can view them without excessive scrolling or clicking. “Nobody should have to wade through a labyrinth of links and tabs to find out how much extra they’ll have to pay to use a product or what its environmental impact will be,” says Jon Wiener, associate attorney for Earthjustice, a law firm. “The commission’s decision ensures that online consumers will have access to the same information as shoppers at brick-and-mortar stores.”

The amendments also specify that if consumers have to click an icon to view the label, e-retail sites cannot require them to first save a file to their computer to view the information. E-retailers are not required to include labels or icons on product category pages. 

The FTC does not specify measurements for the label or icon but says web sites can scale them to accommodate their layouts so long as they remain “readable and recognizable.” Web retailers must begin displaying the labels or icons by Jan. 15, 2014.

A further amendment to the Appliance Labeling Rule requires all manufacturers of products covered by the rule to post their labels online where e-retailers can download them. Manufacturers have to make the labels available by July 15, 2013, and keep labels available for at least six months after they discontinue production of a particular product.

Going forward, the FTC also has renamed the Appliance Labeling Rule, which has existed since 1979, as the Energy Labeling Rule. 

E-commerce site design is the main topic of Internet Retailer’s Web Design & Usability Conference taking place in Orlando Feb. 11-13.

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