Nobody reads a public offer while making online purchases. Everyone just clicks «I accept», aren’t they? Mantra «I accept, next, next, process personal data, I accept, next, checkout» is as essential in our life as coffee in the morning.
95% of people don’t read the agreement, but in case of a dispute or when it necessary to return money they immediately start searching for the public offer on a website.
This letter is dedicated to a public offer and to the personal data protection in the context of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which was finally approved by the EU Parliament.
Public offer or how to sell without an agreement on paper
Any online store should conclude a contract with each customer. There’s no way to avoid this step: you could probably miss something, and in this case, there is nothing on record to show that something went wrong. Let’s imagine a real-life situation:
Angelina is a dog groomer. Customers can order grooming services and to pay for them directly on her own website. Prices on all grooming services are available, just pay and watch whilst your pet is being groomed. But the owner of shaggy dog suddenly decided that Angelina should also feed his dog with a chew bones and make dog’s hair wavy. Why not? The website does not specify, that such services are not included. Which means that the client is right to demand them. Angelina should simply specify the scope of services on the website beforehand in order to avoid such misunderstandings.
It’s not necessary to sign an agreement on paper. A customer can simply click «I accept the offer» on a website before making an online payment and this action will be considered to legally concluded agreement.
What is a public offer
A public offer is considered to be legal when it answers these questions «Who, when, how and what is being done?», «How much does it cost?», «How to pay?». Any other offer won’t be accepted by customers, the Consumer Protection Association (CPA) and by the court.
The offer is not really a contract. It’s just an official invitation to any person or entity to conclude an Agreement for the provision of services.
For example, an armchair in the shop costs $200. It’s the offer. But at first a client should accept its terms, otherwise it’s not considered to be an agreement.
To accept the terms of the offer doesn’t mean that you should print it out and sign it. It’s enough to click «I accept» or simply make an online payment.
An offer covers all typical services and products: gadgets, clothes, pizza delivery, online services, server hosting and even registration of the domain names — a public offer describes conditions that are the same for all customers. If conditions are individual — you should conclude an agreement with each customer.
Why you need a public offer
The offer protects not only the rights of an online store but also the consumer’s rights. In addition, the online shop describes the scope of its responsibility in details in order to prevent income losses, and the consumers want to be sure that their rights are protected they receive a product they pay for.
In order to consider the offer to be valid, a customer should accept it. The online store can choose an action, that will be considered as an agreement: ordering, paying, registering on a website or simply clicking on the button «I accept».
For example, an offer is considered to be legal when it contains a condition, that an online store doesn’t answer phone calls during a heavy rain in Monaco. Even if a customer angrily requires an answer — he has accepted such terms and the store shouldn’t answer these phone calls. Of course, we recommend avoiding such trolling in the documents 🙂
The purpose of the offer is to show what a customer will receive after it’s payment. If apples, then of which variety, how many, of what color; if services — which ones, who will render them, how much time will it take what is expectable result of the service. It’s not necessary to describe all features in the offer, you can simply make an allusion to the website page with all the details. The more precisely you describe your products, the less time.
Very few people read the terms of the public offer: it’s too boring, takes a lot of time, they want to receive the product as soon as possible. If you want to enhance the interest of your customers in reading the public offer, describe its terms in simple phrases and don’t overwhelm your clients with thousands of questions upon each item. And if you don’t — so write a public offer in the most complicated way possible.
How to draw up a public offer
There are no strict requirements to the drawing up a public offer. Also, there are no requirements to the language: you can both write with strict law terms, and use simple phrases — it depends on how confused you want to make your customers.
An offer should contain all the substantial conditions of the agreement:
- definition of the seller and buyer;
- description of the product or the service;
- terms of the purchase: cost and quantity;
- terms of delivery, exchange and return;
- warranty obligations;
- supporting documentation: certificates e. g.;
- terms of the offer: acceptance and changes;
- procedure for settlement of disputes.
Of course, these points can be described on the separate website pages. But you should add links to them and point out that they are considered an integral part of the public offer.
Keep the personal data of your customers as safe as your own house
Online sales are connected with a very important matter — confidentiality of the customer’s personal information. An online store is responsible for collecting, storing, accessing and correcting client’s email, phone number, address and credit card number.
On each data entry form on the website (user registration form, a service request form, a callback request form) you should place the following text «By clicking „I accept“ button I agree with processing of my personal data…» and insert the hyperlink to the document into the text «I agree with processing of my personal data».
If you disclose your customers’ personal data to the third parties, you should specify it in the agreement. For example:
«Customer confirms his consent to disclose his personal data to the third parties for providing advertising, delivery and analytical services.»
But it’s not enough. You should specify to whom the client can appeal in order to request personal data removal or update.
Personal data — under the personal responsibility
The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect on 25th May 2018. It contains 99 articles, that define obligations and rights granted to the EU citizens, regulations and dramatically increased sanctions for violations of this law.
For example, users have a right to:
- receive a confirmation of personal data processing;
- request copies of such personal data;
- receive an additional information concerning purposes of personal data processing, personal data categories, recipients, terms etc.;
- prohibit personal data processing for specific purposes;
- a complete deletion of their personal data or restrict its usage temporarily on condition of providing an objectively justified reason — it’s called a «right to be forgotten»;
- request a transfer of their personal data from one company to another.
The companies are obliged to:
- inform users within 72 hours about a personal data leakage or a security breach;
- appoint the organization representative in the EU, responsible for personal data protection.
How GDPR defines the personal data
Any information which can be used to identify an individual relates to the personal data — a name, an address, financial information, an IP address, genetic, mental, cultural, economic and social information, cookies, an email, biometric data such as face recognition or fingerprints used for identity verification, video recordings, location, an occupation, gender, health status, сcustomer loyalty statistics, social media posts and photos in the social networks.
Such impressive list of the personal data of EU clients the companies are obliged to protect. A failure to comply or a breach of privacy can lead to fines of up to €20 million or 4% of global annual turnover for the preceding financial year.
This new Regulation obliges all companies to protect personal data of EU clients. Even if the company doesn’t have representative offices in the EU, but has clients from the EU, it is obliged to carry out personal data processing according to the GDPR.
For the companies:
- Draw up a public offer in such a way that your customers don’t get the impression that they only have obligations but no rights;
- Describe the refund policy and your warranty liability. A customer should feel confident and be able to get their money back.
- Simplify access to the public offer and the agreement. If customers don’t find these documents they will probably refuse from purchasing.
- Check for updates of the personal data protection laws and meet these requirements carefully. The fundamental rule is to do whatever it takes to protect personal data.
For the customers:
- This might sound weird but read the public offer. If you pay for a year of service you should familiarize yourself with the public offer in order not to be left with nothing.
- In case of doubt ask the company for more information. No clear-cut answer? You have a reasonable doubt.
- Does the company refuse to settle the arising disputes? You should prepare the necessary documents and apply to court.
- Check the credibility of the company to which you entrust your personal data. Read comments and feedback related to this company. Play safe!
- If you discovered that someone gains unauthorized access to your personal data or uses it illegally, apply to the data protection authorities.