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Why your website terms and conditions matter more than you might think

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by Startacus Admin

Over the last few weeks Thomas Taylor a director at Legal Document provider Net Lawman has written some fab posts for Startacus. Last week Thomas highlighted why you should actually care about your website privacy notice and this week Thomas returns, to focus on the importance of having a good set of terms & conditions on a website. Over to Thomas to explain all...

Why your website terms and conditions matter more than you might think

Just like a privacy policy, many founders overlook the importance of having a good set of terms and conditions on a website. After all, the document is just the small print that no-one reads. Or is it?

website t & c's

The remainder of your contract

Because the aim of your sales page is to convert a visitor into a customer, you are likely to display the information that the visitor needs to make a buying decision and little else to distract him or her.

That information (such as price) obviously forms part of the contract. But there will be other terms that you will also want to be in your contract, but which are less important to the immediacy of the buyer’s purchasing decision.

Some of those will be of a commercial nature, which you decide - perhaps such as how you might package the goods. Others will be governed by statute law, such as your service cancellation policy.

The place to put those extra terms, neatly together, is on your T&C page. There, they are kept out of the way of the buyer’s decision making, but remain available to customers who are interested, and read (or at least said to be read) when the client completes the checkout process.

Terms of Use

On an ecommerce website, your T&C will include terms relating the purchase of your goods or services – what are known as “terms of sale”. You may also have “terms of use” – rules for how visitors to your site should behave. Most site owners put them in the same document (on the same page), but there is no reason why the two could not be separate.

Unlike terms of sale, terms of use are not likely to be legally binding. The reason is, unlike a customer who ticks the checkbox that he accepts the terms of sale, a standard visitor does not actively agree to the terms of use (unless you have a mechanism such as a “paywall” where some of your site requires the visitor to register).

Although you have no contractual redress against people who break the rules, having terms of use published can be beneficial. They tell your visitors what you expect of them (even if actions such as not copying your sales text are covered automatically by other law) and they provide you with a justification of recourse against anyone who does break your rules.

website t & c's

Copying a competitor’s T&C

Many new businesses save on legal costs by copying the T&C of larger competitors (several years ago Net Lawman even had a competitor legal services provider copy ours verbatim!).

This may seem like an easy way to obtain the much needed “last piece” of your website before launch, but it is a bad idea. Not only might your competitor have poor T&C (he might have copied them from someone else), his business model might be slightly different from yours and you might not want to enter into the same contracts he does.

For example:

Your competitor might be a large business and have arranged drop shipping from a manufacturer. As a smaller, new business, the manufacturer insists that you buy your goods and deliver them yourself. The returns policy for your competitor is likely to be very different from yours.

The second common problem with copying is omission. Your competitor might have left out a term, or displayed it elsewhere within his site. While it is easy to change what you can see, it is much harder to edit a term back in unless you are aware you need it.

So make sure your T&C are thorough and complete

The good news is that it is easy to write your own T&C. As the business owner, you are in a good position to know what commercial terms you want to offer. All you have to worry about then is legal compliance.

The best way of making sure you stay within the law is to use a template from a reputable legal document retailer (check their customer reviews).

Provided you choose a template that looks thorough for your purpose, you will get the selection of terms from which you can edit out those you don’t need, and you should get guidance as to which to leave in. You will have peace of mind that you have good legal protection for your website, and no worry that your competitor notices that his words are now on your site.

Fancy reading other 'legal themed' posts from Thomas? You might want to read:

About Thomas

Thomas Taylor a director of Net Lawman, an alternative for small and growing businesses to using a solicitor to obtain legal documents. He is a qualified accountant (FCCA, FPA/FIPA).

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Published on: 27th January 2016

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