by Shaya Silber

Should you be hesitant in giving over your credit card other personal information to websites?

Nearly everyone uses the internet to communicate with others and share information. The internet is increasingly being used as people’s primary source of entertainment. Tech savvy internet users, and particularly young internet users are also becoming more comfortable doing their shopping and business over the internet.

There is no question that doing business over the internet can make a business’ operations more efficient in numerous ways. The biggest benefit is the reduction in overhead. Running a website has its costs, but operating a physical location can incur significant expenses in rent, human resources, property taxes, and so on.

Another major advantage to doing business over the web is your potential reach. When your store operates out of a physical location, your customer base is limited to people who can reasonably travel to your store, and are also willing to do so. When you’re online, you can potentially sell to anyone.

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The biggest obstacle to running a web-based business, is getting people comfortable enough to give their personal information, namely their credit card information, to a faceless form, and then click “submit”.  These kinds of transaction are common, and experiencing rapid growth. However, there are still large segments of the population who are reluctant to do so.

People’s biggest hesitation with buying something online is a perceived lack of legality in the transaction. What most people don’t realize, is that there is legislation that address these concerns and makes online contracts legal enforceable. The Electronic Commerce Act states that agreements that are formed online are no less enforceable than contracts that are formed and signed in person (with certain exceptions such as land transfer agreements, which must be notarized).

The Act does have some requirements. In a nutshell, the parties must signal their intention to enter into an agreement (i.e. clicking “I accept”  or “Submit”  etc). There must also be some written documentation of the agreement. And finally, the parties must have the opportunity to save, print or otherwise make the agreement available for future reference.

For example, the Act specifically addresses what is commonly referred to as click wrap agreements. Section 19 of the Act states that an offer may accepted by an action such as “touching or clicking on an appropriate icon or other place on a computer screen”.

In conclusion, the legal obstacles to doing business online are generally not as risky as they seem. However, the above discussion regarding the Act is only a brief overview, and you should consult a lawyer before implementing any online commerce programs.

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