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E-commerce terms and conditions : what you need to know

01 Jul 2010

If you have an e-commerce facility on your website then you will know that your bank requires you to have terms and conditions for its use. But having an e-commerce facility creates its own unique issues which won’t be covered by your normal terms of trade.

Why you need specific e-commerce terms

With e-commerce your customers will be paying you by credit card over the internet. You can’t see them and neither are they required to verify their identity through a pin number or a signature.

As a result the transaction is less secure, and then you add the complication that it’s happening over the internet. Whether your e-commerce facility uses Secure Socket Layer technology or not, everything is vulnerable to an expert intent on doing some damage.

So if something goes wrong; for example, the customer is using somebody else’s card or the transaction somehow gets hacked, then you want to make sure that no liability attaches to you.

What should you put in your terms?

Here is a short checklist of some things you will want to cover in your e-commerce terms to ensure that your liability is kept to a minimum: Ensure the customer is who he says he is: this means getting the customer to agree that he is over 18 and he is using his own credit card for a proper purpose.

Refunds: what is your policy on refunds? In what circumstances will they be made and how? My recommendation is that all refunds only be made back to the card which originally purchased the product and not by any other means.

Privacy: get permission to collect personal information from your customers through your online shopping cart. Security: give some assurances around the level of security offered, but exclude liability for transactions that may be hacked. Fees: does payment by your e-commerce facility attract additional fees on top of the price for the product? If so, this must be specified. Limit liability:

You need to have a general exclusion of liability for the customer’s use of the e-commerce facility and emphasise that any payment reversals are nothing to do with you, but are between the customer and their card issuer.

Review your terms now

The chances are that your normal terms of trade will not include these terms (at least specific to the customer’s use of the e-commerce facility). So either incorporate such terms into your standard trading terms or have them as a separate document. Make sure the customer ticks the box to say that they have read them (even if they don’t).