eCommerce Tips for conducting business online.

eCommerce (also known as ‘electronic commerce’) refers to business conducted online. At one time, the term included only web businesses such as Amazon and Travelocity that transferred a real world paradigm – buying books or booking flights — to the Internet. But heading into the second decade of the 21st Century, practically all business is conducted online in some way and eCommerce includes a wide range of subject matter, whether it’s downloading an app, clicking on an adword at a blog, licensing content from iStockphoto, or purchasing a legal form. In fact it’s hard to imagine a business without some eCommerce element. In this section we look at all of the legal issues affecting eCommerce 2.0.

Website Law

If you want your website to succeed, you’ll need to understand basic legal and business principles.

If you want your website to succeed — whether you are creating a simple two-page online shop for a local jeweler or a thousand page site for a Fortune 500 company — you’ll need to understand basic legal and business principles. This section provides the basics for developers and those who contract for website development with a focus on contracting, intellectual property and the patchwork variety of website related laws and regulations.

Website Terms and Conditions

Posting legal notices on your website.

Many sites post “terms and conditions” somewhere on the site. Do you need them, too? If you have anything more than a small, information-only site, you probably do, covering topics like copyright, returns, and limiting your liability.

Refunds, Returns, and Losses

If your site sells products, you may need notices regarding credit card use, refunds, and returns (known as “transaction conditions”). For example, you might want to announce that your business will accept returns up to 30 days after purchase.

You may also want to include disclaimers — statements that inform customers that you won’t be liable for certain kinds of losses that might incur. For example, you may disclaim responsibility for losses that result if pottery breaks when a customer ships it back for return.

Privacy Policy

If you are gathering information from your customers, including credit card information, you should post a privacy policy detailing how this information will be used or not used. Yahoo!’s privacy policy ( http://privacy.yahoo.com) is a good example of a broad, easy-to-understand policy.

You can check out other policies by typing “privacy policy” in a search engine. Pick and choose the elements that apply to your site. Whatever policy you adopt, be consistent, and if you are going to change it, make an effort to notify your customers of the change.

Limiting Your Liability

If your site provides space for chats or postings from the Web-surfing public, you’ll want to limit your liability from offensive or libelous postings or similar chat room comments. There are three things you can do:

  • Monitor postings. Regularly review all postings and promptly take down those you think are offensive or libelous.
  • Remove suspect postings. If asked to remove a posting by a third party, remove it while you investigate. If you determine — after speaking with an attorney — that you are entitled to keep the post, then you can put it back up.
  • Include a disclaimer. Your disclaimer should explain you don’t endorse and aren’t responsible for the accuracy or reliability of statements made by third parties. This won’t shield you from claims, but it may minimize your financial damages if you’re involved in a lawsuit over the posting.

Copyright Notices

Regardless of what your site does, you should include notices regarding copyright and trademark — for example “Copyright © 2006 RichandAndrea.com” or “Cyzuki is a trademark of Cynthia Lloyd.”

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