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Consumer law for internet traders

It doesn’t matter if you trade from a website or a leased shop front in a mall, the consumer laws of New Zealand still apply to how you sell, advertise and deal with customer complaints. 

In fact, you continue to be bound by consumer laws regardless of what type of electronic medium you use to sell your products or services (including smart phones and other devices).

What to include on your website

Like all other retailers, you need to make sure your customers are fully informed about the costs and terms and conditions of your goods and services. All the information needs to be accurate and provide consumers with the complete picture so they can make an informed purchasing decision.

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To ensure you do this, you should include the following on your website.

  • Your business’s address and contact details – phone, fax, email and street address (not just a PO Box number).
  • Any extra costs – for example delivery, postage and handling
  • An explanation of how your online payments are secure.
  • An explanation of your return, exchange or refund policies that should be consistent with the Consumer Guarantees Act.
  • Details of how customers can complain, and whether a disputes resolution process may apply (such as an ombudsman scheme or as contained in an industry code).
  • An explanation of which legal jurisdiction applies to the transaction (yours or the customer’s country).
  • What currency the purchase is in.
  • Any restrictions or conditions that may apply to the purchase (such as geographic restrictions or parental/guardian approval for minors)
  • A privacy policy.

This is a guide only. Only the courts can make an authoritative ruling on breaches of the Fair Trading Act. The guide is not intended to be definitive, and should not be used instead of legal advice.

‘Spam’ is the use of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited bulk messages, especially advertising, indiscriminately. While the most common form of spam is unwanted email, it can also include fax, instant messaging, or mobile phone messages.

The Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act 2007 prohibits spam with a New Zealand link (such as messages sent to, from, or within New Zealand).

All New Zealand businesses are required to comply with the Act by ensuring any electronic messages they send are not considered spam. Failure to comply could mean a fine of up to $500,000.

What we mean by commercial electronic messages

The electronic message is considered spam only if it is commercial in nature – for instance, marketing or promoting goods, services, or directing the recipient to a location where a commercial transaction can take place (such as a website).

It is important to note that providing a hyperlink (Internet link) to a company web page in the signature of an otherwise non-commercial email would make it commercial.

Which messages are not commercial electronic messages?

The Act provides that the following common messages between organisations and customers are not commercial electronic messages.

These may include:

  • Responses to a request for a quote or estimate
  • Messages that facilitate, complete, or confirm a commercial transaction the recipient previously agreed to
  • Warranty information, product recalls, and safety and security information about goods or services used or purchased by the recipient
  • Factual information about a subscription, membership, account, loan or similar ongoing relationship.

If messages fall into any of the above descriptions they are not spam and don’t have to contain information about the sender or a functioning unsubscribe facility.

Commercial emails are only spam if they're sent without the consent of the person receiving them – such as unsolicited messages.

Commercial emails are only spam if they're sent without the consent of the person receiving them – such as unsolicited messages.

Three steps to ensure you are not ‘spamming’


Follow the steps below to ensure you are not sending spam. 

  1. Step One — Consent Make sure you have the consent of the recipients of the commercial electronic message.
  2. Step Two — Identify Identify the business responsible for sending the commercial electronic message and how they can be contacted.
  3. Step Three — Unsubscribe Include a functional unsubscribe facility in all commercial electronic messages.

Anti-spam advice (external link)  — Department of Internal Affairs

Privacy principles

In addition to the requirements of the Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act 2007, businesses must always comply with the Privacy Act 1993 and be familiar with the Privacy Principles. 

Privacy Principles - Office of Privacy Commissioner website.  (external link)

Passing on email addresses, without permission, to another organisation or business may breach the Privacy Act.

Getting further help and assistance

The Department of Internal Affairs has compiled a range of resources and business case studies to help New Zealand businesses comply with anti-spam regulations.

 Anti-Spam Business Info on the Department of Internal Affairs website (external link)

You can also keep up-to-date with the Department of Internal Affairs Anti-Spam Compliance Unit on Facebook (external link)  or on the DIA Anti Spam index page (external link) .

Find out more about consumer laws for retailers.

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