Shopping online: Your guide to the fine print

Have you ever set out to purchase something online, only to be put off by legal jargon that you encounter along the way.

Well, you wouldn’t be the first and you definitely won’t be the last. But the truth is…the legal terminology often contained in a website’s fine print is there to protect both the seller and buyer alike. Therefore, it’s in your interest to understand the legal terminology often found in website fine print and to know what impact it might have upon you.

So, here’s an overview of legal terms and clauses that any online shopper needs to know:


Cookies are small pieces of information that are temporarily stored on your computer (or other Internet-enabled device) when you visit a website for the first time. This makes your future visits to that website more tailored to your preferences, providing you with a more enjoyable experience.

Clauses relating to cookies usually exist to provide visitors of a website, with notice that cookies are being used to gather data. Put simply, these clauses obtain your consent for a website owner to use cookies.

Intellectual Property

Intellectual property or IP refers to creations of the mind. IP comprised in a website might include words, photographs, illustrations or videos.

IP clauses usually state that the IP comprised in a website is owned, or under licence, by the website owner. These clauses also set out what you may and may not do with IP comprised in the relevant website, and what action may be taken if you fail to comply.

Third Party Websites (sometimes referred to as Linked Websites)

These clauses highlight that if you are directed to a third party website, then the owner of the website that you would be leaving will not be responsible for any loss or other consequence, which you may suffer as a result of visiting the third party website.

Entire Agreement

This clause defines the parameters of an agreement and is a declaration that the terms and conditions that you agree to represent the whole of the agreement between you and the website owner. This means that you may not be able to rely upon any discussions that you may have had about a website transaction, which are not reflected in the terms and conditions that you have agreed to.


These clauses exist to ensure that if any term or condition contained in the legal fine print is deemed invalid, then the entire terms and conditions are not rendered invalid also.

Force Majeure

This provision is usually used by the seller to disclaim liability for any delay in performing any of their obligations, if the delay is caused by circumstances beyond their reasonable control. This might include failure of, or interruption in, the provision of essential services such as electricity supply, bank payment systems or postal deliveries.


These clauses usually state that by using the website, you agree to indemnify the website owner from and against all actions, claims, suits, demands, damages, liabilities, costs or expenses, which may arise out of, or that are in any way connected to, your use of the website.


In the context of online shopping, a Disclaimer clause will seek to disclaim the website owner’s liability with respect to their website. However, liability can only be disclaimed to the extent permitted under law. For example, you have certain rights under the Australian Consumer Law, which may not be able to be excluded by the owner of a website (such as a right to a refund in certain circumstances).

General Information Only

These clauses state that the information displayed on a Website is to only serve as a general overview on matters of interest. Put simply, a website owner does not want to be responsible for you relying upon information displayed on their website. Carry out your own research at all times.

Governing Law

This clause specifies the law that will govern purchases made via a website (for example, the laws of New South Wales). The absence of a Governing Law clause may result in a governing law being applied, which may be contrary to the intention of the parties.


A Jurisdiction clause specifies the jurisdiction that the parties agree that disputes will be heard in. This provides certainty to both the website owner and you (unless the court itself decides that it has no jurisdiction to hear the dispute).

And here are some of the documents that the above terms are usually found in:

Terms of Use

This document governs your general use of a commercial website and includes the types of clauses referred to above.

Refunds and Returns Policy

This document sets out the preferences and requirements of the seller around refunds and returns. These are instances where this can be superseded by Australian Consumer Law, so as always, it’s wise to keep across your legal rights.

Purchase and Shipping Terms

This document governs payments and shipping. Take note whether or not the agreed shipping method includes tracking or insurance. If not, this is something that you might like to request for peace of mind.

Privacy Policy

This document sets out the website owner’s practices when it comes to collection, storage, use and disclosure of personal information that it obtains about you. Always scan the Privacy Policy to know where your personal information will be stored and under what circumstances it may be disclosed to a third party.

So, now that you are able to make better sense of the legal jargon contained in your favourite website’s terms and conditions, go forth, and shop with confidence.