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Your website T&C's - essentially represent your agreement of use and trade

On Monday we received the following question via email.

 “I’ve recently launched an online business and I am busy setting up my website. My website developer has strongly advised me to look at proper terms and conditions for my website. I’ve always thought these were relatively standard T’s & C’s, but he seems to think they must be quite specific. Must they be specific or can I just copy terms and conditions from other websites?”

E-commerce and online shopping continue 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&C's) - 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&C's must regulate the entire range of using, transacting and interacting with your online business.

If properly drafted, T&C's can provide many advantages some of which are the following:

  • They 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.
  • They set out 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 to you, and also where your liability is limited and the basis of any limitation etc etc.
  • They will establish when ownership passes, who the owner of intellectual property is (such as copyright) on the website, what licenses you have to sell third party products, etc.
  • They will also detail how consumer complaints and service issues are dealt with and what remedies are available to your online consumer in the event of a consumer complaint.
  • They should also 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 any issue, complaint or dispute arising from a transaction between you and the consumer.
  • They will also 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 (which is in a draft form and is soon to fully commence) which are relevant to your own and also to all other online online business.
  • They will, in addition, eliminate loopholes that could be exploited by a savvy online consumer or consumers for their own benefit and to yours and your online business’s detriment.

A one-size-fits-all or cut-and-paste approach must therefore 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&C's that are specific to your needs.

Also, don’t assume that T&C's are never read. As online consumers become smarter and more educated, T&C's 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 for your business. But tread carefully and obtain the help of a specialist to help you put the correct T&C's in place for your new website.

Please visit our website at www.legaladviceoffice.co.za or send us an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your legal questions.

About our author:

Hugh Pollard (Legal Consultant), has a BA LLB and 42 years’ experience in the legal field. 22 years as a practicing attorney and conveyancer; and 20 years as a Legal Consultant.

082-0932304 (Hugh’s Cell Number)

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

www.legaladviceoffice.co.za

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