Commerce. Selling Internationally:
A Guide for Business
Thinking about doing business online, or expanding your outreach
on the web?
Consumers around the world are increasingly turning to their
computers to buy a wide array of goods and services.
And because the World Wide Web is, as its name
implies, worldwide, businesses that sell online can potentially reach billions of
customers in every country of the world. Even small "mom-`n-pop" companies with
websites are attracting a client base never before possible. Many are discovering just how
international the Internet really is, processing orders not only from the next town or
state, but from the next continent, too.
That presents new challenges to sellers who have never shipped overseas and may have
little experience with the taxes, duties and customs laws involved.
It also raises questions about consumer protections. When buying from an overseas
vendor, what, if any, protections do consumers have if they run into problems? How safe is
it to transmit credit information overseas via the Internet? How long will it take for an
order to be delivered? Are unexpected taxes or duties routinely added to the price?
New international guidelines are helping to answer those and other questions. The
United States and 28 other countries, working together as members of the Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development, have signed on to new guidelines.
set out principles for voluntary "codes of conduct" for
businesses involved in electronic commerce;
offer guidance to governments in evaluating their consumer protection
laws regarding electronic commerce; and,
give consumers advice about what to expect and what to look for when
The goal is to build consumer confidence in the global electronic marketplace by
working to ensure that consumers are just as safe when shopping online as when shopping
offline-no matter where they live or where the company they do business with is based.
E-Businesses that adhere to the guidelines:
Use fair business, advertising and marketing practices.
They provide truthful, accurate and complete information to consumers, and avoid
deceptive, misleading or unfair claims, omissions or practices. The businesses can back up
all claims, such as claims about how well a product works or how quickly a product will
arrive. They also make sure advertising and marketing material is identifiable as such
and, when appropriate, identify its sponsor.
Provide accurate, clear and easily accessible information about
the company and the goods or services it offers.
They disclose the information consumers need to understand whom they're dealing with and
what they're buying. These businesses post the company's name, its physical address,
including the country, and an email address or telephone number consumers can use if they
have questions or problems. They also provide a clear, complete description of the product
or service being offered. That helps take the guesswork out of online shopping and could
reduce the number of complaints filed by dissatisfied consumers after the sale.
Disclose full information about the terms, conditions and costs
of the transaction.
They provide consumers a full, itemized list of costs involved in the transaction,
designating the currency involved, as well as terms of delivery or performance, and terms,
conditions and methods of payment. If applicable and appropriate to a transaction, these
businesses also include information about restrictions, limitations or conditions of the
purchase; instructions for proper use of the product and any safety and health care
warnings; warranties and guarantees; cancellation or refund policies; and whether
after-sale service is available. If it's possible to carry out a transaction in more than
one language, they make available all important terms and conditions in each language.
Ensure that consumers know they are making a commitment to buy
before closing the deal.
These businesses take steps to protect consumers who are merely "surfing" the
'Net from unknowingly entering into a sales contract. They give the consumer a chance to
change the order before committing to the purchase or to cancel it altogether. They also
allow consumers to keep a record of the transaction.
Provide an easy-to-use and secure method for online payments.
They adopt security measures appropriate to the transactions to make sure that
personal information is less vulnerable to hackers.
Protect consumer privacy during electronic commerce
They disclose their privacy policies or information practice statements prominently on
their websites, and offer people choices about how their personal information is used.
They give consumers the opportunity to refuse having their personal information shared
with others or used for promotional purposes.
Address consumer complaints and difficulties.
They have policies and procedures to address consumer problems quickly and fairly, and
without excessive cost or inconvenience to the consumer. They also take advantage of
alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.
Adopt fair, effective and easy to understand self-regulatory
policies and procedures.
They extend to electronic commerce the same basic level of protections that cover other
forms of commerce. The agreement encourages businesses to work with consumer
representatives to develop policies and procedures that give consumers the tools they need
to make informed decisions and to resolve complaints.
Help educate consumers about electronic commerce.
They are helping create a consumer-friendly electronic marketplace. These businesses work
with governments and consumer representatives to ensure that consumers understand their
rights and responsibilities when participating in online commerce.
The guidelines also call on participating governments to take steps to boost consumer
confidence in the electronic marketplace. They encourage governments to evaluate their
consumer protection laws to make sure they extend to online shopping, and to ensure that
consumers have recourse if they are dissatisfied.
And they recommend that governments work together to combat cross-border fraud and help
establish a climate for electronic commerce that balances the needs and interests of
businesses and consumers.
Governments that signed on to the guidelines are:
Is your business "consumer-friendly" for international e-commerce?
Do you clearly disclose on your website:
- what kind of business you operate?
- your physical business address, including the country, and an email address or a
telephone number consumers can use to contact you easily?
About the Sale:
- what you are selling, with enough details that consumers can make an informed buying
- a list of total costs you'll collect from the customer, and the currency used?
- the existence of other routine costs?
- any restrictions or limitations on the sale?
- any warranties or guarantees associated with the sale?
- an estimation of when the buyer should receive the order?
- details about the availability of convenient and safe payment options?
About Your Consumer Protections:
- your return policy, including an explanation of how a consumer can return an item, get a
refund or credit or make an exchange?
- where the consumer should call, write or email with complaints or problems?
- the opportunity for consumers to keep a record of the transaction?
- your policies on sending unsolicited email solicitations to consumers, including an
opportunity for consumers to decline these offers?
- information about easy-to-use and affordable dispute resolution programs you participate
Do you use Fair Business, Advertising
and Marketing Practices?
- Do you provide truthful, accurate and clear information on your website?
- Can you back up the claims you make about your goods and services?
- Are your advertising and marketing materials identifiable to consumers as such?
- Do you disclose who's sponsoring an ad if it's not otherwise clear to consumers?
- Do you respect consumers' choices not to receive email solicitations?
- Do you take special care when advertising to children?
Do you use Fair Information Practices that include:
- notice to consumers about your information collection practices, such as what personally
identifiable information you collect, how you use it, and whether and with whom you share
- choices about how personally identifiable information is used and whether it is shared
- procedures to ensure accuracy, including, for example, allowing consumers reasonable
access to their information?
- security measures appropriate to the transactions on your website?
The FTC works for the consumer to
prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the
marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and
avoid them. To file a
complaint or to get free information
on consumer issues, visit
call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The
FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related
Consumer Sentinel, a
secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law
enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
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FOR THE CONSUMER