While many people skim over or ignore the “fine print” in online stores, it’s there for a reason: to clearly define your responsibilities and protect your business. While the “fine print” may seem like a formality, it can be anything but.

For example, say you operate a T-shirt shop in a local mall. Business is booming, and you decide to sell shirts online. You set up a website, offer e-commerce, and off you go.  At your retail store your returns’ policy is clearly stated: You will provide a refund for any item that is returned, un-worn, within 30 days.

What happens if you don’t include your returns’ policy on the website?  Three months later, a customer requests a refund for an obviously worn shirt they purchased from your website. Do you have to honor the request? You could argue that you do not… but you did not set up clear expectations for your online customers. While no customer is likely to sue if you do not honor a T-shirt return, you do risk losing a potential long-term customer and creating negative word of mouth.

Is this just a simple example? Sure – but it happens all the time. Here are ways you can avoid misunderstandings by including the correct legal language on your site.

Transactions

Start by detailing your transaction conditions: Minimum purchase amounts, when credit cards will be charged (at time of order, when product ships, etc.), and how customer returns will be credited to customer accounts.

Returns

When you sell products through e-commerce, always include clear notices about your returns’ policy. Set a clear standard for how long you will accept returns. Some companies require customers to call for a return authorization before they will accept a return. (They ensure authorization has been granted by only receiving packages with a valid return authorization number.) Also, set conditions for returns. You may accept a return under any condition, or you may limit returns only to items that are damaged or defective. Also include your responsibilities in regard to shipping charges: Will you pay for the cost of shipping a return back to you, or will the customer? Set clear expectations, and take time to think about – and cover – as many potential scenarios as possible.

Privacy

If your site will gather any information from customers, specify in your privacy policy how that information is gathered and will be used. For example, if customers provide email addresses, explain how those addresses will be used. You may decide to use email addresses only in the event you need to contact customers about their orders. On the other hand, you may decide to use those addresses to send advertisements or notifications… or you may even sell them to other companies as leads. Whatever you decide to do with the information you gather, make sure site-visitors know your intentions.

Fortunately, writing a clear privacy policy can be relatively easy. Review the privacy policies of other companies who operate websites similar to yours for examples of what your policy may want to look like.  Once you have put together a draft policy, you should have your attorney review your policy to make sure it meets your specific needs and that the policy complies with current laws and requirements.

Keep in mind that if you change your policy in a substantial way – for example, if you change from “we will sell or disclose your personal information” to “we reserve the right to sell your personal information to third-party companies,” you should make a concerted effort to inform previous customers before you make that change.

Copyrights

All sites should include a copyright notice on each page. Include notifications of copyright and also any trademarks. For example, the notice, “Copyright ©2012 ACME Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved” informs visitors that information (including photos, diagrams, and text) provided on your site should not be copied or distributed without permission.

 

Information provided is for informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Consult with an attorney concerning your own needs and circumstances and to obtain any legal advice with respect to the topics discussed in this article.  Please contact a professional before making investment decisions.  Investment products are not insured by the FDIC; are not a deposit or other obligation of, or guaranteed by, the depositing institution; and are subject to investment risks, including possible loss of the principal amount invested.