Doing business online? Do you have an agreement with your customers? “How can I possibly have an agreement with everyone?” you ask. “They shop at my site from all over the world!” Aha -- that’s where your website terms and conditions come in.
Website terms and conditions provide more than just intellectual joy rides for attorneys. Just as contracts protect you in your face-to-face business exchanges, so they can protect you in the wild world of cyberspace. You want to be sure that (1) you provide what was asked, (2) at the price quoted, and (3) there’s a way to resolve customer dissatisfaction. Those basic principles apply regardless of whether you're selling SEO services directly to Simon, or promoting your pet toys online to Paula in Parsnippany. In both cases, you want to be sure your customers clearly understand.
What Can You Expect To See?
Terms and conditions don't always go by the generic name "terms and conditions." Sometimes, they’re divided into subject areas on separate web pages, like "privacy" or "returns" or "disclaimers." The terms you need depend on the nature of your business. If your website is a brochure-type site that simply promotes your own services, you may not need as robust a list as a site like Home Shopping Network (hsn.com), which sells other people's products. Consider the following:
- Information: how collected and used
- Parental consent for purchases by children
- Information Sharing and Disclosure - will the personal information be rented, shared, or sold? If so, under what circumstances?
- Cookies: will you set them on customers' computers?
- Editing and deleting account information
- Confidentiality and Security
- Contact information for customer questions
- Security of information and disclaimer
- Examples of information collected
Legal/Terms of Service
Acceptance: using the site means the customer accepts the terms
- Description of service
- Registration obligations (e.g., representations that customer is of legal age, that information supplied is truthful)
- Conduct for use of site (e.g., if membership site where people can upload information to the site, content must not be abusive, vulgar, infringing, illegal, etc.)
- Indemnity (if customer violates your policy, customer will pay for damages and attorneys' fees if you are sued for it)
- No responsibility for what appears or occurs on 3rd party sites
- Disclaimer of warranties (customers use the site at their own risk)
- Limitation of liability (you have no responsibility for customer losses except to the extent - should you choose - of refunding the purchase price or replacing the items)
- Choice of law and forum (where disputes will be resolved)
- Statute of limitations
Payment and Returns
- Pricing and price changes
- Return policies
- Payment terms (forms of payment that are acceptable)
- Shipping charges, taxes, and title
- Satisfaction guarantees (if applicable; see Return policies)
Copyright and Intellectual Property Policies
- Notice and procedure for making claims of copyright or intellectual property infringement
- Proprietary rights in copyrights, trademarks, and patents (if applicable)
- License to access (but not reproduce) site
- Right to terminate accounts of IP infringers on the server
- Permissions for right to use IP on the site
- Electronic communications (consent to communicate by email)
Wow -- what a list!! Now you see why website terms and conditions are an important part of your arsenal of protection - and why it's not wise to put these together yourself. These provisions can vary depending on the nature of the product or service being offered, so make sure to review your terms with an attorney so that they are relevant for your business and provide you with the protection you'll need!