As a small business owner with a retail operation, you don't need to be told again that your world is changing beyond all recognition. There are so many different pressures lined up against a "bricks and mortar" operation today, with increasing rents and decreasing foot traffic. This is why it is crucial to expand your operation into the virtual world. However, you have to be careful and ensure that all your contracts are watertight and can be enforced. What do you need to bear in mind before you start?
The Internet has been compared to the "wild West" in terms of its unpredictability. However, most states across Australia have introduced legislation that seeks to safeguard consumers (and to a certain extent retailers) during commercial transactions.
For example, even though there is no face-to-face interaction online, the standard elements of contract law as set out in federal and state coding still have to be recognised. A contractual agreement has to be generated through a typical offer and acceptance process. All the parties to the contract have to be legally capable of entering into the agreement and some form of "due consideration" has to be exchanged both ways.
How to Ensure You Get Agreement
More often than not, any online transactions need to be protected by a physical action taken by the buyer when they are in receipt of all the terms and conditions. This is quite easily achieved by requiring the buyer to read the contract terms and put an entry into a box using their mouse, when they're ready. This contract can be contained within a special frame that requires the reader to scroll down, once again using their mouse or their finger as appropriate, before they can introduce their agreement. Once all this is done, the contract is legally binding.
Australian law requires that a notice is posted to inform the customer that transactions are governed by the appropriate law and that the transaction is essentially a contract. In addition, it's best if a clear statement is included next to the terms and conditions "box" so that the buyer clearly knows what they are doing when they check the box. The consumer should also have the option to download the agreement that they are signing, if needed.
It's Not Really As Wild As the West
Many thousands of digital purchases take place every day and the law is now quite "settled" when it comes to what works and what doesn't. It's worth bearing in mind, however, that if you transact business online internationally, other laws may or may not be in place to protect you, or the consumer. It is always best to consult with a lawyer specialising in online commerce, to ensure that you are as protected as possible before beginning.
For more information, contact a commercial lawyer.