All About Online Contracts
In order to stay ahead in the competitive business world online trading has now become almost mandatory. Any business that offers a service will now usually come with the obligatory online ordering webpage. The law of contracts and legally binding agreements will still apply in cyberspace regardless of whether you are banking online or home shopping from your local supermarket.
Online ContractsNew reports have shown that nearly 7.8 million homes in the UK have internet access and the number is growing every day. Add to this the unknown amount of people who also use their work computers for shopping online, whether they are actually permitted to or not, and you are looking at a huge amount of online consumers.
The internet has changed the way consumers shop for goods, book holidays, open bank accounts and spend their hard earned cash in general. The basic principle behind consumer spending for the virtual customer is practically the same as if the goods or transactions were made in person. Online contracts are just as valid and legally binding as if they were made on a one to one, in person basis.
The Contractual ElementsAs with all binding contracts there are four elements to a contract; offer, acceptance, consideration and intention. If all of these elements are in place then a legally binding contract has been formed and this rule also applies to online contracts. The fundamental difference is that we are now conducting these transactions online rather than in person, and these elements have now been adapted for online contracts.
Emails and WebsitesBusinesses across the world are now using emails to conclude business transactions and agree terms and conditions of contracts every day. An emailed offer and acceptance is a contract in exactly the same way as a written in ink contract or agreement, the only difference being the manner in which it is delivered.
Emails can be used as records or hard copies of the contracts and if contract disputes do occur and the matter is taken to a legal level then emails can be used as evidence. Similarly, buying goods or accepting services from a company's website is also a binding contract and you should have all of the same rights as you would if the contract were made in person.
Problems with Online TradingAs with the offline contract world not all transactions and contracts have run as smoothly as they should. Many online companies have seen problems with their contract terms and conditions, particularly with advertising goods. For instance, ordering goods online and then having to wait until the goods come into stock when they have been advertised as available should not occur, but often does.
Companies need to make customers aware of their terms and conditions and should not be advertising goods under false pretences. Many internet traders will often take money upfront but delay the actual point of concluding the contract until the goods have been sent out to the customer. They actually use this method in order to stop errors in price, which can happen if an advertised product has been wrongly priced. If there is a pricing error then they can simply reject the order and refund the money. It is far simpler to do this than try to break a fully formed contract, and it protects traders legally.
Terms and ConditionsTerms and conditions are an integral part of any contract and they must be clearly defined and never ambiguous. If online traders use methods such as delaying the formation of contracts then it must be stated in their online terms and conditions. Hiding a contract clause such as contract formation delay in unclear terms to confuse the customer will not hold any weight in court if the issue does reach a legal stage. The law has set rules regarding clearly formed and intelligible contract clauses and this law does not change with online contracts.
Online trading has changed the way consumers now shop and purchase services and goods but contract law still exists. Consumers should always protect themselves when purchasing any goods online and always read the terms and conditions in case there are some confusing contract clauses that can be brought up later if disputes occur.