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The Legal Side of Ecommerce: What You Need to Know for Your Online Store

June 25, 2017 • 7 min read

Victoria Greene is a freelance writer and ecommerce marketing expert who works with local brands to extend their reach online.

In order to run a successful ecommerce store, you first need to adhere to the correct legal requirements of your specific state or country for international trade. Not doing so will land you in lots of trouble and could even see your ecommerce store being shut down. Although the legal part of ecommerce can seem dull and confusing, once you know the basics you can rest assured that your customers’ and your company’s legal rights are protected. These are the most important legal requirements that you must adhere to so your store doesn’t get any negative backlash.

Trademark Registration, Patents and Copyright

Trademarks and patents are crucial business assets for any company. Trademark registration, patents and copyright all protect your brand’s legal rights. They also ensure that you are not infringing on other companies’ legal rights.

What do you need to do?
Simply register your company with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. You can find out more about the process and what assets you need to protect.

Terms and conditions

This is an important component in protecting your company’s (and your own personal) legal rights when selling online. Terms and conditions will set out the rules that you and your customers will have to follow during the payment process. They will also limit your liability in the event that your product fails and covers all legal rights in the instance of a conflict.

Without these in place, you will be unable to sell online because the risk of something going wrong with a purchase would be too significant.

What do you need to do?

If you have not already done so, draft a notice of terms and conditions to include on your site. You can take a look at this sample guide to create your terms and conditions yourself. Make sure that these are highly visible for customers during the purchase phase of your website.

International Shipping Regulations

For those that are shipping internationally, there are certain regulations that you need to make sure you adhere to. Ensure that you are following the correct legal requirements for your specific place of residence, as different states in the US have different regulations. Avoid the headache and follow the correct procedure.

What do you need to do?

Find out before you begin selling internationally the specific requirements you must adhere to. Many regulations actually revolve around using the correct labels on products being shipped internationally. Store builder Shopify offers merchants specific labels that follow the right requirements for each state in the US and other countries, which saves you the hassle (though you can also do this manually, or outsource this part of your business).

Anti-spam regulations & data protection

Most merchants understand the value of collecting up-to-date contact details for their customers. This information can be used for future marketing campaigns and retargeting previous customers. But these details must be kept safe. Many merchants will buy or rent other contact details to use for marketing purposes, and these unsolicited emails can be in breach of anti-SPAM regulations, like the anti-spam statutes enacted by California.

What do you need to do?

If you are planning to purchase contact details for marketing purposes, or are going to be collecting details from customers, then it’s important to offer a 10-day opt out clause within your outreach email. Any customer that requests this opt-out must be taken off your marketing mailing list to ensure you comply with anti-spam regulations in your area.

Refunds policy

Offering a clear refund policy is an important way to build trust with customers. This policy needs to be clearly outlined and displayed for users to read through before they make a purchase from your online store. The returns process is the one that is most prone to conflict, so it’s important to cover your legal rights, along with your customers’ rights.

What do you need to do?

Understand that refunds and returns are a natural process of retail. To ensure brand trust, handle refunds swiftly and ensure you are giving customers the best possible experience while using your online store. Set out your refunds policy in your store’s terms and conditions so customers always know what their legal rights are before purchase.

There are a number of things that you need to take into consideration when setting up your own online store. Depending on the country you are operating in, there are certain rules and regulations to ensure that your store is legally protected in case something were to happen. These legal regulations protect your liability and legal rights, along with your customers’ rights, so you never get into a sticky situation. Take the time to make sure your policies are airtight so you are always covered. Have you followed these regulations for your ecommerce store?


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