Latest retail estimates predict that Australia’s online retail sales will rise by more than 14% in 2015, hitting upwards of $10 billion. And while the eCommerce boom shows no signs of slowing down, it’s important that your business understands the importance of a legal infrastructure behind your website.

After spending hours and hours on creating your product and website, the last thing you want is a lawsuit or a knock on the door from the Government.. In order to avoid potential legal and commercial disputes, it is absolutely crucial to create legal policies that are relevant to your website. By following these steps you’ll go a long way to ensuring that your website is legally compliant and protected. Follow the steps below to ensure your website is legally compliant and protected under Australian law.

Step 1: Create a Privacy Policy

The most common question we get asked from business owners is whether they need a Privacy Policy for their website. We tell them it’s pretty simple to figure out: If your website gathers any sort of personal data (such as email addresses) then a Privacy Policy is a no-brainer. You are also obligated to do so under the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth).

A Privacy Policy is an ideal first step to getting your website legally compliant, and deals with points such as how personal information is collected, what it is used for and how it is stored and managed.

It’s crucial that any website using Google Analytics for web measurement (there’s over 10 million out there) has a robust, local Privacy Policy, particularly if you use Google Analytics Advertising Features. By enabling the Advertising Features, you enable Google Analytics to collect data about your website traffic via Google advertising cookies and anonymous identifiers, in addition to data collected through a standard Google Analytics implementation. Google explicitly states in its terms of use  that if you’ve enabled any Google Analytics Display features then you must notify your visitors of this in your privacy policy.

The Privacy Policy must feature in the navigation of a website and be accessible from every page of the website. Its inclusion on your website is a necessary safeguard to a potential breach of the Privacy Act 1988 (CTH), where companies may be liable to fines of up to $1.7 million.

Step 2: Create Website Terms and Conditions of Use

Under Australian Consumer law, you are required to have Website Terms and Conditions of Use on your website if you sell with goods or services. Website Terms and Conditions of Use are needed for every goods or services website as they explain to consumers their rights when purchasing. A well drafted Website Terms and Conditions of Use will deal with issues such as returns and refunds, consumer guarantees, deliveries, disclaimers and competitors. They will also cover have the effect of limiting liability for any information and material that may be on your site. Additionally, it should lay down the rules for people visiting the website as well as providing protection of intellectual property (your work and ideas) on the website.

Step 3: Create Marketing Policies

Marketing is no longer solely left to Word of Mouth, and we’re all constantly looking at new ways we can seamlessly reach our target audience. However as digital marketing becomes an irresistible option, it’s important that you’re aware of the relevant legal obligations, specifically surrounding email marketing.

Before sending a marketing email or SMS to your customers make sure:

  • you have consent from the people you are sending messages: Usually business provide an option regarding this when capturing personal details
  • there is an option to unsubscribe
  • identify your business with details that are accurate over the next 30 days

We highly recommend businesses also include a disclaimer when sending marketing emails. This keeps your communications safe and secure. It ensures that the email is to be read only by the recipient, contains a disclaimer for ‘opinions’ and also email errors.

Step 4: Email Disclaimer

An email disclaimer protects your emails from their content being used incorrectly.

An Email Disclaimer is added to an email and is a statement of legal character that identifies the email that is only for the recipient and contains a disclaimer for opinions and errors. As an online business, you are responsible for the actions of your employees – email disclaimers are a way for your company to protect itself and prevent unwanted costly lawsuits.  Email disclaimers are desirable to prevent defamation, unintended contract formation and misdirected emails. A disclaimer acts as a deterrent to sue in relation to the content of the email.  It may also exempt a company or business from liability as to the contents of an email.

Step 5: PCI Compliance

If your business processes credit card payments, it is guaranteed that PCI Compliance will be applicable to your business. PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) is a set of requirements that must be followed by all companies and merchants when accepting payment from customers via credit or debit card.  Business owners or operators are expected to comply if they accept, process, transmit or store cardholder data taken online. PCI compliance shows customers that their information is protected and this compliance is expected of all Australian business, irrespective of size. There are two options of becoming PCI compliant: Businesses can choose to make their equipment, systems and staff PCI compliant or they can outsource the handling of credit card numbers to a payment provider that is PCI compliant.

Step 6: Refund Policy

Online businesses are not exempt from making customer’s rights apparent.  Under the Australian Consumer Law, terms of payment, delivery, services, return and refund policies must be made clear to the consumer. These essential details should be provided on the  ‘Terms and Conditions’ page on your website to ensure legal compliance and account eligibility with most Australian banks.

It is also a wise idea to have an option for customer feedback and complaints on your website, this can be helpful for customer interaction and allow issues to be resolved before legal action is sought.

Step 7: Complying with ACCC

Businesses must guarantee products and services they sell, hire or lease for under $40,000 and those normally bought for personal or household use over $40,000, despite any warranties they give or sell to you.  If businesses fail to deliver on any guarantees including warranties offered, rights to repair, replacements and refunds, cancelling a service and compensation for damages and loss, a consumer can use their rights under the Australian Consumer Law for automatic protection.

Website Starter Bundle

Creating necessary legal foundations for your website is important to avoid potential legal and commercial disputes.  Having these legal policies in place, in addition to relevant compliance reaffirms the suitability of your website, protecting the consumer ,your product and the website you’ve taken time to perfect.

If you’re ready to take your business online then purchasing Lawpath’s Website Starter Bundle will set you up with everything you need to stay protected. You’ll receive a Privacy Policy, Website Terms and Conditions and Terms of Use and an Email Disclaimer.

Unsure where to start? Contact a LawPath consultant on 1800LAWPATH to learn more about customising legal documents, obtaining a fixed-fee quote from our network of 600+ expert lawyers or to get answers to your legal questions.

Dominic Woolrych

Dominic is the CEO of LawPath, dedicating his days to making legal easier, faster and more accessible to businesses. Dominic is a recognised thought-leader in Australian legal disruption, and was recognised as a winner of the 2015 Australian Legal Innovation Index.