How to Avoid Misleading or Deceptive Conduct on Your Website
A company's reputation can be severely damaged when caught for deceiving customers. Find out how to avoid misleading or deceptive conduct.
Having an engaging website to put your company name out there is one of the most important things to do when setting up your business. Especially during this time where more businesses are moving online. It can be tempting to exaggerate your company’s services and products to draw in more customers at first. However, it’s illegal for any business to engage in conduct that deceives consumers (whether you intended for it or not). Not only that, getting caught for misleading customers can be detrimental on your business’ reputation.
First things first, what is misleading or deceptive conduct?
It can be any false statements about the quality and value of your company’s products or services. This includes any testimonials on your website that are fraudulent or unverified. Read more here to evaluate whether you’re engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct. Consider whether the ‘overall impression’ created by your business is false or inaccurate!
You can still be held liable for making statements that are even likely to mislead or deceive, under Section 18 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 . Now it may seem really scary to avoid misleading and deceptive conduct when your aim is to make your website stand out from the crowd.
But here are some basics you need to know to avoid misleading conduct on your website:
1) Be aware of misleading words
It’s simple. Don’t promise anything when you can’t stick to it. Many businesses commonly use “free” or “extras” to draw in the customers’ attention. But you have to be careful and specify the context of your words to avoid liability for making false claims. For example: it should be made clear when your product is free only in condition of buying another product.
2) Do not rely on disclaimers
You may think simply putting a “disclaimer” can limit your liability for making misleading statements. These disclaimers, called “exclusion clauses” only have legal effect when they are prominent in the contract and along with many other elements. It can actually be a tedious process for you to prove the legal effect your exclusion clause holds. The smartest way to go is to simply avoid misleading and deceptive conduct rather than hoping your disclaimer will exclude liability.
Here are some common examples. As you can see in the article, small print and disclaimers are one of the mistakes people make. When the small print is not prominent enough in your advertisement, it can actually be held as misleading.
3) Remember, your intention does not matter
Under Australian Consumer Law, whether or not you intentionally participated in misleading or deceptive conduct does not matter. You can’t just argue that you have made a ‘genuine’ mistake. Have a thorough read of Advertising and Selling Guide to really wrap your head around the fundamental principles you should know to avoid making misleading or deceptive claims.
Final note on how to avoid misleading or deceptive conduct
Understandably, this can be a lot to take in at first. But here are some tactics for you use. Mere pufferies such as “best restaurant in the world” is still acceptable! You can also use comparative advertising when you can effectively prove your claims are true. For example: when your company has better prices and quality compared to your customers, you can advertise your products/services as evidently being better than your competitors.
Julie is a Legal Technology Intern at Lawpath. She is currently studying Bachelor of Laws and Commerce at the University of Sydney. She's interested in how technology can shape the future legal industry.