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Managing a successful online business requires a lot more than great ideas and reliable infrastructure. There are many financial, managerial and legal aspects that become visible only after your business is up and running. Oftentimes a pre-set framework can help you be prepared for these kinds of challenges.
In this article, we will present a basic guideline outlining the best practices for Australian ecommerce businesses. We will focus on those aspects that are essential to make sure your ecommerce business gains the trust of your consumers.
The basic best practices for Australian business owners are set by fair trading legislation. Though you are certainly familiar with these, we will go through the main points here:
If your company is selling a product that needs a special software or hardware to function, you should make sure that your consumers are aware of that in advance.
There are a few things to keep in mind to ensure that your ads are consumer friendly and follow all the necessary regulations.
The first thing that you should keep in mind is your ads must be clearly distinguishable from other contents of your site. For example, your customer review section should remain independent and free of self-promotion.
Don’t make any false claims related to your products. Make sure you are able to back up any claim or information that appears in your ads. Providing misleading information in your ads will demote your brand image and may even lead to legal issues.
As an ecommerce business, you will frequently send emails and newsletters to your customers and subscribers. The Spam Act 2003 provides clear instructions regarding which emails will be identified as spam and which are legitimate commercial emails.
Here are the basic requirements set by the Spam Act:
You cannot send any commercial email to a recipient without prior consent. However, in some cases, you can infer consent from how a potential customer interacts with your site.
For example, if a customer hasn’t subscribed to your newsletter but buys products from your site regularly, you may assume that they won’t mind receiving special offer emails from you.
Still, the best practice is to ask your customers for opting in to your newsletter at the checkout page. A simple checkbox near the checkout confirmation button is ideal.
If a recipient reads your email, he should easily be able to identify where the email is coming from. You must clearly mention your business name, website and business address.
Every email must have an “Unsubscribe” button, preferably at the bottom. Your recipients should be able to choose to stop receiving future emails if that’s what they decide.
Anyone below the age of 16 years old is considered a minor. Your ecommerce site may have visitors who fall into this age group. If your site especially targets this age group then you need to take some extra care.
Children are not usually entitled to any legal capacity to enter into a contract. Your site must verify the age of your consumers before any business transaction or contract is initiated. Take reasonable steps to ensure your paying consumer is over 16. If they are not, then you should take additional steps to seek the consent of a guardian or parent, who can perform the transaction.
For any ecommerce business, it is required that the following information be easily accessible to consumers:
Your business name, address and contact information, including registration info (like ABN or ACN). This makes it clear who owns the website and the business, and which parties are involved in a transaction performed on the site.
Make sure all the contract terms related to purchase are clear and easily accessible. Your site must include detailed information regarding the price of your products and related costs to help consumers make informed decisions.
Before entering into a transaction, a customer should be able to review the details of the total cost. Upon payment, she should receive a copy of this information.
The transaction terms and conditions need to be separately presented before the transaction takes place.
On the checkout stage, the final price that is displayed should be all-inclusive. That means the delivery and service charges need to be included in the final figure.
In subscription-based services, it might not be feasible to estimate the total cost in advance. In this case, provide all the details on how the recurrent costs will be calculated.
Additional information that your consumers need to be aware of (if applicable) includes – available payment options (mention this before the consumer reaches the checkout page), delivery terms, warranty information, subscription renewal information, after sales service details, usage restrictions (such as geographical or age restrictions), refund or cancellation terms, special offer time period, etc.
Before a consumer closes a contract with your online business (such as buying a product or subscription) let them review and edit the ordered items. In other words, there must be an additional step before the final purchase is made. For an ecommerce site, this means giving your consumers the option to edit their carts and asking for confirmation before the transaction.
Consumer privacy is a very important aspect of any ecommerce business, as your consumers have the right to know how their personal information is being used. You should handle personal information with the utmost care.
The best thing to do is to make sure that your business complies with the APPs set by the Privacy Act of 1988. Adopting the APPs will mean that –
Adhering to a government-approved privacy act will make it easy to manage personal information collected by your ecommerce site. Moreover, it will make your website more trustworthy to your potential customers.
One of the most important parts of your ecommerce security revolves around the payment method. It’s your duty to set up a reliable and secure payment mechanism for your online store.
Educate your customers by providing information regarding the authentication and security, if necessary. For example, you can discourage them from sending sensitive information (like account password) via email. Your customers should have access to all the necessary details to assess any risks (associated with using your site) up to a reasonable level.
Ensure your site’s security by making periodic updates and maintaining an appropriate level of technical expertise in your own team.
Remember that you must bear your part of responsibility if any loss occurs to any of your customers due to your site’s authentication or security failures.
Give your customers a clear instruction regarding the dispute resolution procedure for your ecommerce business. This will build more confidence and trust among people who want to engage in any kind of financial activity with you.
Here are some points that your complaint resolution procedure must honour:
In the case where the outcome of a complaint handling procedure is not satisfactory for the consumer, you should provide information related to external bodies which can help in resolving the issue.
If any transaction with your online business is subject to any specific laws or jurisdiction, it’s your duty to state that clearly as early as possible. Generally, businesses located in Australia will rely on Australian courts for handling consumer disputes, if necessary.
The best practices that we have described above will make sure your ecommerce business stands on a solid foundation. But the success of an online store also depends on the quality of products, marketing strategy of your business and the features of the ecommerce site that works as your virtual storefront.
Nevertheless, keeping these 10 things in mind will help you gain the trust of your potential customers and give you a good starting point towards building a respectable online brand.
[For preparing this article, we have used the Australian Guidelines for Electronic Commerce as a reference.]