E-commerce and online shopping continues to grow exponentially as mobile devices, bandwidth and diverse applications allow consumers to freely browse and buy online. It could even be said that today consumers expect a business to have an online presence with which they can interact.
But, online businesses beware! An often overlooked aspect – your website terms and conditions (T&Cs) – essentially represent your agreement of use and trade with users of your website or mobile applications. The last thing you should do is skimp or fail to customize such to your specific website and online business needs. These T&Cs must regulate the entire range of using, transacting and interacting with your online business.
If properly drafted, T&Cs can provide the following advantages:
• Provide clarity about what is acceptable conduct on your website as well as the consequences of breach thereof and to avoid any misconceptions which could lead to upset customers.
• Detail the rules that govern your transactions and interactions with an online consumer such as how you will accept online offers, when a sale agreement is concluded, when payment must be made, how orders are confirmed, what your returns policy is, your shipping costs, what warranties and guarantees you provide, how you will use information provided, where your liability is limited etc.
• Establish when ownership passes, who the owner is of intellectual property (such as copyright) on the website, what licences you have to sell third party products etc.
• Detail how consumer complaints and service issues are dealt with and what remedies are available to your online consumer.
• Explain what legal system will govern your transactions. With online shopping being globally accessible, missteps in determining the legal rules applicable could be disastrous. This extends to identifying the forums to be used for dealing with disputes arising from your T&Cs.
• Ensure your compliance with important legislation such as the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002, the Consumer Protection Act 68 of 2008 and the Protection of Personal Information Act 4 of 2013 (soon to commence) which are relevant to your online business.
• Eliminate loopholes that could be exploited by a savvy online consumer for their benefit and to your detriment.
A one-size-fits all or cut-and-paste approach must never be followed. Your type of business, the goods or services you sell, your content, your value offering all differ from that of other online businesses and as such demand T&Cs that are specific to your needs.
Also don’t assume that T&Cs are never read. As online consumers become smarter and more educated, T&Cs are finely scrutinized before a shopping decision is made. So make sure these are clear, watertight and appropriate to your website so you can improve a consumer’s willingness to shop online with your business. But tread carefully and obtain the help of a specialist to help you put the correct T&Cs in place for your new website.
This article first appeared on the Phatshoane Henney Attorneys’ February 2017 newsletter .