As online traders have significantly increased their revenues, many companies find it attractive to move their business online. Let us take a quick look at what the legal ramifications might be.

Choose an appropriate sales channel

The first decision is to choose an electronic sales channel: this may be a classic online store, a mobile application, messenger or a platform (such as social media, marketplaces and auction sites). Even e-mail and mobile apps can be added to the list. Certain jurisdictions may also have specific localisation and registration requirements applicable to the particular electronic sales channels used for online trading, as is the case in Belarus.

From a legal point of view, there are three things to consider. First, as a distributor you must consider that the producer or importer may have set certain limitations on the sales channels allowed. Second, platforms also require extensive terms and conditions for their traders. Third, it would be smart to consider the bulk and the content of regulations that apply to each channel.

Protect the rights of your customers

Consumer rights have to be recognised. For example, consumers have the right to cancel internet transactions for 14 days after receipt of goods. There is an extensive obligation to inform consumers of their rights before a purchase is made, and this information must be provided in language understandable to the customer. Contractual freedom is significantly limited when entering into contracts with consumers, which is to the advantage of consumers. It is highly recommended always to follow the guidance found in consumer rights protection law and any guidelines issued by the authority responsible for consumer rights protection.

Protect data and ensure cybersecurity

Data protection and cybersecurity rules are a whole other world to navigate. In taking your business to an electronic channel, you must first understand what personal data will be transferred during various transactions, where, and why. Once there is a clear map of how the data is processed and moved, data subjects must be informed about it (known as privacy policy). Except for Belarus, requirements set for cookies are especially strict, mainly concerning analytical cookies and those enabling personalised ads. Make sure that the customer has given all the necessary consents before sending them personalised advertisements and rapidly react in case of withdrawal of consent. Otherwise, customer complaints may result in a fine imposed by the state data protection authority. Sometimes, websites may fall under certain mass media law requirements (eg that applies in Belarus, for websites that allow leaving comments).

Certain economic sectors require issue of an activity licence before launching a web business: an online casino or a drug store cannot be established overnight. Then there are notification obligations, and other sector-specific requirements. For example, as an importer, you must consider potential excise duties and environmental standards that set requirements for handling packages and waste. A good example today is requirements for transporting food sold on the internet. In addition, specific requirements set during the state of emergency are of importance. For example, certain gambling activities are suspended in Latvia and Lithuania. It may be also important to consider available options to use e-signatures for making the process of concluding contracts smoother and quicker.

Online traders should also consider local rules relating to different forms of payment and delivery of goods.

Follow advertising and marketing rules

Advertising and digital marketing come with a set of rules in their own right. If you move your business to the web, you must think about how to notify your clients of the new possibilities, so that you can legally use their electronic contact data. The general provisions of advertising law apply to digital advertisements as well. Personalised or targeted advertising cannot be freely used on websites and apps, while for some products – such as alcohol – advertising limits also apply to social media.

Consider also other legal relationships that you may need to establish in addition to those with your customers:  delivery service providers, social media providers (advertising services, search engine optimisation, and so on).

Protect your trademark and domain name

Finally, make sure not to forget your brand – once the business is up and running (or before – if you are confident of success), you should think about registering your brand name as a trademark, so that it is protected and cannot be copied by your competitors, as well as registering your domain name. In addition, we recommend paying attention to the use of third party content: this is subject to copyright protection and, generally, may be used only with permission from the copyright holder.