E-commerce, electronic commerce

Electronic commerce (e-commerce) often involves selling things via a Website. But also providing information by mail is part of e-commerce. Today the law provides special provisions on online buying. For example, electronic contracts are usually as legal as their paper counterparts. Electronic payments are of course an important part of e-commerce. Liability, customer privacy and even patent laws provide unique challenges for electronic business.

Business websites

Most types of electronic commerce involve a website. Setting up such a website requires as the very first step the choice of the right domain name. Care should be taken to avoid accusations of trademark infringement with a domain name.

A business website should be easy to use, so that prospective customers can quickly find what they need. Having the right content (text, photos and so on) available is very helpful. Of course such content should not be copied from others without permission. The same goes for reusing existing databases such as search engines or product information.

Business e-mail

E-mail is also a popular medium. In many jurisdictions, e-mail is a legally valid way of entering into contracts (in Dutch), such as placing orders. Using e-mail for business communication (in Dutch) is a popular option, although a business should be careful not to send spam (in Dutch) (unsolicited bulk e-mail).

Electronic purchase

A purchase through e-commerce is a form of distance selling (in Dutch). Special laws are usually in place that protect the consumer who engages in distance selling (buying, actually). He usually has the right to return the goods within a certain period. Distance sellers have to provide proper identification. General conditions of sale (in Dutch) may be subject to extra limitations when dealing with distance selling or electronic commerce.

Selling intangible goods such as audio, video or other content has completely different implications.

Closing the deal

A contract is formed when the customer accepts the offer from the merchant. This does normally not involve formalities, except in special cases like buying a house. An electronic deal thus can be closed completely on-line, by clicking an "I agree" or "Confirm purchase" button. Sending an e-mail in which the acceptance is expressed is also a legally binding (in Dutch) way to enter into a contract.

For extra security, the parties can use digital signatures on such electronic communication. In many jurisdictions today digital signatures are as legally valid as paper signatures (in Dutch).

Electronic payment

An essential part of electronic business is payment. Various electronic on-line payment systems exist. The security of electronic payments (in Dutch) is a prime concern. Many security mechanisms have been developed.

Other issues

Electronic businesses, in particular information providers and hosting providers, may be liable for what they offer. This includes liability for customer's actions (in Dutch).

Electronic commerce usually involves processing customer data. This is subject to privacy and data protection (in Dutch) laws.

Finally, in the early 2000s (the Internet boom) many companies applied for e-commerce or business method patents. While the validity of business method patents is often disputed (especially in Europe), a business should not simply assume all such patents are invalid and can simply be ignored.