Developing an eCommerce business and growth plan is definitely important, however you do need to be aware of the laws when it comes to selling online. In this guide, we'll cover some of the main categories of laws you should know in order to run an online business and avoid problems. Of course, these will be broad overviews and a lot will depend on your sector and location. Therefore, this guide should not be taken as official legal advice.
You should look into consulting with a professional before you set up shop to ensure you're starting off with all the right processes. The team at BizCounsel can set you up with the proper expertise to fit your budget and needs, but here's a primer to help get you familiarized with what you'll need to know!
If you've been up and running for years, you've likely got corporate and sales taxes for your state all sorted. Now you're going to have to learn the laws of all the other places you will be selling. For instance, if you sell plastic bottles in California, you're required to apply an additional tax on them for recycling. There are also some particularities you need to be aware of even when still shipping domestically within the U.S., since sales tax can vary based on shipping destination.
In eCommerce, you're going to be relying on electronic payments, so you need to ensure you are PCI compliant. Basically, you need to adhere to a set of standards for data protection of financial and personal data. If either your site or your payment gateway is compromised, you could lose PCI compliance and will no longer be able to use major methods of payment. This translates to lost sales and lost trust.
You need to ensure you are choosing gateways that are secure in order for you to remain PCI compliant. There are plenty of big names out there from you to choose from, including:
Depending on what sector you are in, there may be licenses or government compliance forms you need to make sure you have properly filed.
If you're in a regulated industry, you will likely already know this. However, if you are completely new to the market, it's best to check with a legal professional about what documents and forms you may need to file in order to operate. BizCounsel will have the business experts available to help you navigate the licensing requirements for your products.
When it comes to shipping, you'll have your own terms, rates, and deals. However, if you're using shipping companies or USPS, be aware that there are certain restrictions on what can be transported. Some things are obvious, like living animals or anything illegal, however, others are not as intuitive. The list of prohibited items for some carriers includes things like:
Fresh fruits and vegetables
Make sure to check with your carriers to see if you sell anything that may be prohibited. If so, you'll need to find a secondary carrier for those products.
There is an ever-growing amount of regulations when it comes to online privacy that anyone running a site, not just eCommerce businesses, needs to be aware of. One of the main regulations is the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) which limits the personal information you can gather on children under 13.
Trademarks and Copyrights
Now that you're online, it's much easier for people to find you and "borrow" your assets. Your logo and images should be trademarked to protect your brand; otherwise anyone can put your mark where they want. On the flip side, you want to make sure neither your site nor your products are using any copyrighted material. If you do want to use something, like an icon or photo, in many cases you can contact the artist or designer for the rights to use their work for a fee.
Terms and Conditions
Now that you have a foundation for what you need to do, make sure to include everything on your website in a detailed "Terms and Conditions" page. This will serve as a contract between you and users of your site, so you'll want to spell out certain things so it's clear who is responsible for what. For example, you'll likely want to include:
Return Policy: Explain who is responsible for shipping costs and how long after the date of sale you will accept returns.
Jurisdiction: Whose laws are you abiding by? Spell this information out in your terms so customers are aware if you or they are operating by a different country's regulations.
Delivery Terms: Who is responsible for packages if they are lost?
Of course, you'll want to consult a lawyer when crafting your terms to make sure everything is proper and air tight. And don't forget to make sure you have your customers tick a box that says they accept the terms to ensure they have the chance to access them and review everything before they make a purchase.