Visit any e-commerce website in Japan and you're sure to find a link in the footer which reads 特定商取引に基づく表示 (tokuteishou torihiki ni motozuku hyouji), or (loosely) "our policies regarding online sales transactions." In Japan, websites will sell goods and services online are required by law to make this information visible to visitors and customers. The requirements are detailed in the Specified Commercial Transactions Act.
The goal of the Act is to protect consumers in their online transactions and provide the necessary level of transparency with regard to the policies of the seller. The Act covers a wide range of transaction types, including door-to-door sales, telemarketing, and MLM, but the types we are concerned with in e-commerce is Mail Order transactions, which includes online sales.
Rather than display the policies in different areas throughout a website, the typical practice is to summarize them all in a single document and then link that document in the footer, thereby making it available on all website pages.
What should the page cover?
The policies that need to be detailed in the page are as follows:
- Selling prices and shipping charges
- Timing and means of paying the charges
- Time at which the goods will be delivered
- Information about the withdrawal or cancellation of an offer for a sales transaction for the goods (If there are special provisions on returns, a note to that effect must be included.)
- Name, address, and telephone number of the business operator
- If the business operator is a legal entity, and a method using an electronic data processing system is used for advertising, the names of the seller's representative or the person responsible for business related to Mail Order Sales
- If there is an expiration date for the offer, such date
- If there are charges other than the selling price or shipping charges which purchasers should pay, their details and amounts
- If there are provisions about the responsibility of sellers for cases in which the goods have defects, the details of such provisions
- If the transaction is related to software, the operating environments for the software
- If there are special sales conditions such as the limitation of the sales quantity of goods, details of such conditions
- If a catalog, etc., is separately sent on request, and it is charged, the amount of the charge
- If a commercial advertisement is sent by e-mail, the e-mail address of the business operator
In addition to the policies themselves, there are also guidelines for the format in which they should be presented. You can see examples of these here (though the English is a bit dodgy).
Another point worth mentioning is covered in Articles 12-3 and 12-4 of the Act, and has to with with email advertising. Simply put, you cannot send unsolicited commercial emails emails, period. Moreover, as a seller/advertiser you are required to keep a record of consumer consent for three years from the date the last email was sent. Exceptions to this rule include:
- Advertisements accompanying "conclusion of contract," "confirmation of order," "notification of shipment," etc.
- Cases in which the advertisements are included as part of the e-mail advertising which is sent with the request or consent of the consumer
- Cases in which the advertisements are included as part of the e-mail sent from an e-mail account created for free on the Internet using a service in which a free e-mail account is given on the condition that advertisements will be automatically included in every email sent from that account.
There are other details as well and you can read them on the Consumer Affairs Agency website. If you want to dig in to the nitty-gritty of the Act itself there is a clunky English translation available.
Does my website need this page?
If you are selling goods or services on the website then yes, you are required to publish these policies. However, there are some cases where the requirements detailed in the Act do not apply. They are:
- Transactions with persons living overseas
- Sales or provision of services by the national or local governments
- Sales or provision of services by a partnership established based on a special law, an employee organization of government employees, or a labor union, to their respective members
- Sales or provision of services by a business operator to its employees
- Sales of newspapers issued by entities other than publicly listed companies
- Those for which it is found that consumer interests can be protected by other laws and regulations