The #1 Element Most Online Businesses Ignore

By Nina Kaufman, Esq.

I’ve worked with many clients who have an online business. They focus on the logos. The sales pages. The product funnel. Conversion rates. But what’s the #1 element they tend to ignore? Their website terms and conditions.

An e-commerce website is a business. It just happens to be located online instead of in bricks and mortar. Terms and conditions (T&Cs) are, in many ways, the online equivalent of your offline contract.  Without them, you leave matters open to (mis) interpretation.  That affects your revenues and your customer relationships.  And that’s a big risk for small business.


T&Cs vary depending on the nature of the products or services you sell or the types of personal information you collect.  As a baseline, though, here are several of the “must-haves” for any online business:

  • Privacy Policy/Notice – for sites that collect personal information, a Privacy Policy will describe what information will be collected and how it will be used.  You need to let your users know if their information will be shared with business partners or sold to other companies.  The same with cookies (no, not the chocolate chip kind) – visitors are entitled to know if you will be setting them on the their computer.  And how will you protect their information?  Your visitors will want to know the steps you take.

Legal/Terms of Service – This section is like the legal boilerplate of a contract.  Perhaps even more important because you don’t meet your customers face-to-face, and they can come from all over the world.  It will describe the rights and responsibilities, including warranty disclaimers, limits to your liability if a purchase goes bad, and your choice of legal venues.  It should also define any age restrictions and other rules of conduct for the site, as well as confirming the user’s acceptance of the terms.


  • Payment and Returns – This part is key to maintaining good customer relationships. It includes payment terms, shipping charges, return policies, and guarantees.
  • Copyright and Intellectual Property Policies – Do you have proprietary content on your site, like trademarks? Do you use other people’s content (with permission, I hope!).  Many people think they can simply scrape what they see on the Internet.  As in, “If it’s on the Internet, it’s free.” These terms make it clear that’s not the case.


Tip:  T&Cs vary depending on your business and the laws of your state.  Don’t just copy Yahoo’s T&Cs and think you’ll be protected.  Have an attorney review, if not draft, the T&Cs for your site.  

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