Business tips

How to launch an online store in Australia: eCommerce policies and legalities

You’ve got a great product to sell and you’re ready to set up your eCommerce website, but understanding your legal requirements and getting a few policies straight is an essential step before you launch your online store.

Did you know there are a bunch of policies and pages you need to include in an eCommerce website in Australia? Some of these are straightforward. For example, Australian businesses should provide their contact details on their website. That means their ABN and address and preferably an email address or phone number, which are usually displayed on a Contact Us page or somewhere on the home page. Also, the pricing of any items for sale on the website must be clearly displayed. So far, so easy.

Then there are the essential policies, which you are legally obliged to include. These are the: Privacy Policy, Refund Policy, Security Policy and Terms and Conditions.

Before we look at these individually, we want to stress that the best way to go about getting policies for your website is seeing a lawyer and that this article should just be used as a guide.

When we asked Chris Walker, General Manager at design company MagicDust, where his clients find their policies he explained that they generally go through a law firm.

“There are websites where you can get generic policies but they’re mostly based in the US so you’d need to make sure that they’re relevant for Australia,” explains Chris. “It’s easiest and safest going through a lawyer and there are certain law firms that specialise in helping small businesses with website policies. We usually recommend a firm called Legal Vision  which specialises in preparing documents for small businesses,” says Chris.

Legal123 is another law firm specialising in eCommerce policy and if you’re going it alone, they have a Website Legal Package you can buy with documents you can fill out to generate policies.

Privacy Policy

Every time a person signs up to your website, or gives you their address for shipment, they are providing you with their personal details and want to know you will keep these private. You may want to gather even more personal information from customers and potential customers, such as birthdate, interests, occupation and preferences, with their permission. Storing this information securely and in accordance with privacy policy and legislation is critically important.

Collecting personal details is important for eCommerce businesses as it supports: a wide range of marketing options, the development of new services or products, market research, and website user experience and personalisation.

To protect yourself it’s very important to have a privacy policy that includes:

  • How you will protect customers’ details
  • What personal details you will gather and what you will use them for
  • That you take full responsibility to protect the privacy of your users
  • That you comply with active privacy laws
  • Who you may share these details with (such as your delivery supplier)
  • How customers can access the data you hold on them.

Most privacy policies will also include information on Cookies – a small text file that a site may place on a customer’s computer as a tool to remember their preferences.

Payments and Security Policy

This policy outlines how customers can pay and how you are going to keep your customers’ payment details safe. According to The Australian Guidelines for Electronic Commerce payment information should include:

  • Clear information on available payment methods
  • The security of those payment methods in clear, simple language, so as to help consumers judge the risk in relying on those methods
  • How best to use those methods
  • How to cancel regular payments under those methods
  • Any costs applicable to those payment methods.

Taking credit card payments on your site will require sensitive data to be encrypted and so you need to advise your customers that your site is protected by, for example:

  • Your SSL certificate which encrypts correspondence to protect customers’ details and is essential for eCommerce sites in Australia. You can usually buy an SSL certificate from your website developer or your platform.
  • SecurePay Online Payments which functions a) as an internet merchant account that manages the transfer of funds between your customer’s credit card and your bank account and b) as a payment gateway, to transmit credit card data between the internet merchant account, bank account and card providers.

Refund and Returns Policy

This policy explains how customers can return or cancel an order and request a refund or, in some cases, store credit or exchange. This policy is vitally important for eCommerce businesses – where customers can’t try and test products before buying – and it’s the one that customers are going to regularly check out. It’s therefore a good idea to have a good think about what your terms for refund will be and what costs you are going to cover.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) states that a seller should cover freight costs if customers want to return faulty goods, or if an item needs to go back to the manufacturer. For all other returns, it is the responsibility of the customer to arrange – and pay for – transportation. That said, the offer of free return shipping is a major drawcard for customers.

Australia Post offers a range of returns solutions whereby businesses can decide whether they or the customer pays for return shipping. Regardless of who foots the bill it’s important to provide access to an easy-to-print return label or include one with the original parcel.

Terms and Conditions

This page clearly outlines the legal terms governing your website. Your Ts&Cs will state the terms that visitors, users and customers of your website must agree to in order to browse your website, buy your products or to use your services.

The latest Australian Consumer Law stipulates that you must include the following details in your website Terms and Conditions:

  • A statement that you comply with Australian Consumer Law
  • How you will provide a refund, repair or replacement of faulty products
  • Details of your guarantee, and
  • Details of your warranty (if you provide one, which is not obligatory).

Legal123 has some great information on writing your Terms and Conditions and recommends they include:

  • Details of shipping options and expected delivery times
  • Your payment terms if payment doesn’t have to be immediate (e.g. “pay within 30 days”)
  • Notifications about privacy and data collection policies
  • Warnings about stealing your website content or copying your ideas
  • A ‘limitation of liability clause’ for potential claims of damages by your customers
  • Details of any third party relationships and who has responsibility for what
  • Governing Law clause stating your business location and the law under which your Terms are governed.

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