Pinterest “Buyable Pins” And Ecommerce Liability

As social media continues its evolution as a transactional medium, Pinterest announced the release of “Buyable Pins” – streamlining the online purchasing process that enables Pinterest users to buy pinned items from several stores without having to leave the Pinterest site or app.  For consumers, Buyable Pins make it easier to move from a Pin to purchase. For businesses, this opens a door to a large new audience who loves to shop.

Here’s everything you need to know about selling on Pinterest and potential areas of Ecommerce liability.

Online Contracts Reduce Merchant Risk. Sometimes.

A substantial number of court opinions in recent years have looked at the validity of various provisions contained in online contracts. The starting point for most analyses is the point of contract formation, because terms of online contracts are enforceable only if the contract was validly formed. Courts have scrutinized ecommerce contracts, primarily in four areas: (a) Terms of Sale; (b) Returns/Exchanges; (c) Governing Law & Venue; and (d) Arbitration. Quite often, courts have refused to enforce such terms, due to deficiencies in the formation of online contracts.

As a general proposition, formation of contracts (offer and acceptance) and enforceability of contractual provisions (choice of governing law) are matters determined by reference to state law. However, in the United States, federal courts are often required to determine matters of state law and most states have relatively uniform requirements with respect to the three principal concepts in the determination of contract enforceability: offer, acceptance and consideration.

With respect to contract law in relation to online commerce (ecommerce), contracts generally take one of two forms: (1) “click-through” or “click-wrap” agreements, and (2) “browse-wrap” agreements, often referred to as Terms of Use or Terms of Service. It is worth noting that a recent Eastern District of New York court decision classified online contracts in four categories (a) browsewrap[sic]; (b) clickwrap[sic]; (c) scrollwrap[sic]; and (d) sign-in-wrap. Berkson v. Gogo, LLC, Case No. 14-CV-1199 (USDC E.D.N.Y. April 9, 2015). Functionally, the last three tend to look substantially similar (e.g. there is some action required to consent to the agreement, see discussion of “consent,” below) and will be treated as such for purposes of this article.

This is particularly important for merchants using “Buyable Pins” on Pinterest. Unless the online terms of the agreement between the merchant and the customer are validly binding and enforceable, many of the protections offered to the merchant in the online contract will not be available.

As noted above, courts have frequently refused to enforce provisions around a merchant’s ability to modify some terms post-sale (Terms of Sale), the availability of and methods for returns and exchanges, how and where lawsuits may be filed (Governing Law & Venue), and requirements to submit disputes to arbitration. This presents particular issues for Buyable Pins. Merchants need to think carefully about how a user is presented with the opportunity to accept or reject an online contract, and how the user “manifests consent to the agreement.”

The so-called “click-wrap” agreement is usually the agreement formed when a user purchases goods or services through an ecommerce shopping cart application. A user is presented with the online terms and conditions and must “click-through” as part of the transaction.

Consenting to Online Terms.

“Click-wrap” agreements derive their name from the shrink-wrap agreements that were first incorporated into commercially-distributed software. Users were deemed to have accepted the terms of the agreement by opening the package and installing the software. In ProCD, Inc. v. Zeidenberg, 86 F.3d 1447, 1450 (7th Cir.1996), the court held that a user was bound by the terms and conditions of a software license agreement (contract) included in a users’ manual within the packaging, and which was displayed on a computer screen upon installation and use of the software. Such contracts are enforceable unless their terms are objectionable on grounds applicable to contracts in general (for example, if they violate a rule of positive law, or if they are unconscionable).

Consenting to Arbitration, Choice of Law and Venue.

Another concern is the scope of the terms and conditions applicable to the contracts, and whether additional terms may be incorporated by reference or presented after the transaction has been processed. Courts have been severely reluctant to enforce additional contract terms that would affect a user’s rights, such as the user’s ability to enforce the contract, including arbitration provisions, choice of law, and choice of venue provisions in online contracts, especially where such terms were communicated after-the-fact. This issue was addressed by a federal court in Schnabel v. Trilegiant. 697 F. 3d 110 (2nd Cir.2012)

Consenting to Changes in Price.

A very recent case involving Safeway grocery stores challenged a merchant’s practice of charging slightly different (and higher) prices for items ordered online than those purchased in-store. The in-store prices varied day-to-day. Typically, after a customer placed an online order, the items were actually selected from a physical store and delivered to the customer. At issue was the enforceability of Safeway’s “amend-at-will-without-notice” clause contained in the online terms.

Finding the clause unenforceable, the court reasoned “beyond the impracticality of expecting consumers to spend time inspecting a contract they have no reason to believe has been changed, the imposition of such an onerous requirement on consumers would be particularly lopsided, as Safeway is aware that it has — or has not — made changes to the Terms and is the party to the contract that wishes for the new terms to govern.” Rodman v. Safeway Inc., 2014 WL 6984703 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 10, 2014)

Best Practices For Merchants.

“Buyable Pins” highlight the legal risks inherent in ecommerce contracts. Seamlessly moving form Pin to purchase will no doubt increase sales and customers and reduce abandoned virtual shopping carts. However, merchants need to be mindful that the risk of losing a lawsuit because of an unenforceable contract is greater than the risk of losing a sale because a customer had to objectively consent to that contract.

Here are six “best practices” to ensure that the online contract formation process is bullet-proof: 1) use a multi-step account activation (or transaction confirmation) process where the user is shown the contract (can be in a separate “pop-out” window); 2) use a notice appearing in bold print stating, “Carefully read the following terms and conditions. If you agree with these terms, indicate your assent below;” 3) present the terms and conditions in a new window, with a scroll bar that allows the user to scroll down and read the entire contract (the Berkson “scrollwrap” agreement; 4) link to a printer-friendly version to read the contract printed on paper or view it on a full-screen; 5) display a box and the words, “Yes, I agree to the above terms and conditions” viewable without scrolling; and 6) have a functional requirement that the user click the box in order to proceed to the next step.

While I cannot guarantee that using these techniques will ensure that your online contracts will be fully-enforceable 100% of the time, it will make it exceptionally hard for a potential plaintiff to argue that there was no enforceable contract.

When it comes to addressing emerging ecommerce legal risks, it is often difficult to determine whether you should slow down, change course, signal for help, or simply muddle through. Often, companies need to quickly identify potential issues, assess the risk, and implement controls to steer clear of unneeded exposure. The professionals at the Adler Law Group can help you review, enhance and adopt standardized contracts and implement methodologies for approaching these challenges by setting objectives, determining scope, allocating resources, and developing agreements that will efficiently and effective manage risks, while keeping pace with the business.

Focus | Vision | Perspective | Passion

Executives face a confusing and dynamic set of challenges ensuring their business remains legally compliant. Yet few can afford the highly-qualified and versatile legal staff needed to deal with today’s complex legal & regulatory environment. Adler Law Group was created to provide clients with a competitive advantage by enabling them to leverage their intangible assets and creative content in a way that drives innovation and increases the overall value of the business.

For a FREE, no-obligation 1 hour consultation to learn the best ways to identify, protect and leverage your ideas, please call: (866) 734-2568, click: http://www.adler-law.com, or write: David @ adler-law.com.

Adler Law Group – Providing innovative legal counsel that elevates aspirations to achievements.™

GEAR UP FOR FALL! Now Is A Good Time To Take A Look At Those Contracts

One of the most important tools to protect your business – your ideas, customer relationships and talent pool – is your written contract. A solid contract is the foundation for a reliable relationship for you, your customers and your employees. More importantly, it helps to prevent misunderstandings and false expectations that can lead to a breakdown in your customer relationship, jeopardize the project and result in litigation.

Many companies start with a model or “form” contract adapted from forms available online or drafted when the business first started. As businesses develop over time, you may have revised your contracts, adding a little here, removing a little there. Maybe you read an article about an important case in your industry and decided to add some text from the contract discussed in the court’s legal opinion. In many cases, over time, the agreements become “Franken-contracts” an odd amalgamation of trade lingo, inconsistent terms and even contradictory conditions. At best these are ambiguous and confusing to read. At worst, they become unenforceable.

At some point, you should review, revise and generally “tighten” existing contracts. You should have your lawyer review them to make sure that there are no mistakes, ambiguities or omissions that could cost you or your customers. I urge clients to have their contract forms reviewed on an annual basis. Depending on changes in the law, changes in the industry or changes in your own business, this process should only take a few hours.

The following are six things to consider as you review your existing contract forms and business practices.

First, are you using a written contract? Simply having a written agreement in place will help prevent the often difficult, time-consuming and expensive dispute that comes down to a “he said / she said” situation.

Second, make sure that the key terms of your contract are consistent and understandable. Pricing and payment terms, clear descriptions of the services to be performed or the goods to be delivered, as well as due dates and acceptance criteria will go a long way toward preventing breach of contract claims. More importantly, ambiguous and internally-contradictory terms may expose you to fraud claims or claims under an unfair business practices act. These types of claims are typically much more difficult and more expensive to defend against.

Third, create a mechanism for changes in your contract. Circumstances change. When they do, make sure that you document them and that your customer initials and dates any additions or changes to the contract after it is signed.

Fourth, don’t overlook intellectual property (“IP”) rights, Many business relationships involve collaborative sharing or development of knowledge, skills and protectable IP assets such as copyrights, trademarks, patents and trade secrets. Intangible assets are often the most important drivers of revenue creation and value. Overlooking creation, ownership and control of IP rights may result in the loss of these assets.

Fifth, ensure that your contracts are up-to-date with respect to local laws and industry regulations. Recent developments in technology, e.g., BYOD, Social Media, Mobile commerce, and online privacy had produced a raft of state, federal and industry specific laws, rules and regulations. Do you regularly update your forms to make sure they comply with changes to local laws?

Sixth, understand your “escape” options. Not every relationship is meant to last forever. Your contracts should have clear and concise terms for ending the relationship such as failure to perform, failure to pay or adverse business conditions.

To find out more about how the Adler Law Group can help you tighten your contracts, or even draft new ones, contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation.

Cloud Commerce Best Practices

The Tech industry is nothing without acronyms. Here comes cCommerce (e.g. Cloud Commerce) an obvious outgrowth of eCommerce. As companies move more aspects of their business to the “cloud,” beyond their own data storage, such as customer data and transaction processing, it is imperative to implement best practices to minimize risks and ensure customer trust.

Social Media Policies for Fashion Companies and Clothing Labels

In fashion, innovation never goes out of style. Therefore, it is no surprise that fashion houses and clothing brandsmarket across many different

Fashion (film)

Fashion (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

social media platforms. It is axiomatic that fashion marketing requires a deep understanding of the target audience, regardless of whether that knowledge comes from online or offline interaction. Social media provides a forum for a more authentic, transparent and personal engagement with the customer, but also highlights whether a brand has judged (or misjudged) its customer base.

To be successful in social media, brands need to harness the personality, wit, charm and, in all likelihood, free time of their staff. In order to ensure positive, informative and engaging social interaction, a fashion brand’s social media rules must be smart, positive and inclusive. Here are some guidelines for drafting a social media policy that will bring out the best in your brand, your employees (brand ambassadors) and your customers.

Rather than writing out a lengthy, legal boilerplate script, keep these considerations in mind when drafting your policy:

  • Philosophy. Begin with a discussion of how social media fits into an employee’s job expectations and performance. For example, guidelines are important, because if not followed “bad things” can happen, such as losing customers or vendors, the company could get into legal trouble, or worse, you could lose your job.
  • Behavioral Expectations. This is a good place to remind employees that even though it’s a big world, you are often in a small community and, on the Internet, it’s forever. What a person says can be seen by customers and employees all over the world.  Remind employees to stick to their areas of expertise and use respectful conduct. Other watch words include “timeliness” (posts should be fresh, current and relevant), “perspective” (something that may sound clever and racy to one person may be inaccurate or offensive to another), “transparency” (be the first to point out that you are an employee and make it clear that you are not a company spokesperson) and  “judiciousness” (use caution when discussing things where emotional topics like politics and religion and show respect for others’ opinions).
  • Channel expectations. If your company has a social media strategy, make sure employees know which sites (communication channels) are appropriate for which types of communications and marketing messages.
  • Contextual Expectations. Help employees understand the context within which they are engaging customers. Suggest using a conversational style. Remember that in customer’s eyes, “perception is reality.” Add value: Make sure your posts really add to the conversation. If they promote the company’s goals and values, supports the customers, improves or helps to sell products, or helps to do jobs better, then you are adding value.
  • Content Expectations. The policy must have clear and conspicuous language about what is considered company proprietary information, including current projects, trademarks, names, logos  and how they may be used. Never: (i)  discuss or post about financial information, sales trends, strategies, forecasts, legal issues and future promotional activities; (ii) post confidential or non-public information about the company; (iii) give out personal information about customers or employees; or (iv)  respond to an offensive or negative post by a customer.
  • Consequences. Lastly, be upfront about the very real consequences if mistakes are made. If a mistake occurs, correct it immediately and be clear about what’s been done to fix it. Contact the social media team if there’s a lesson to be learned.