It’s not a surprise that Singapore is one of the biggest e-commerce markets in Southeast Asia. E-commerce is forecast to grow to US$7.29 billion by the end of 2022. Over half of Singaporeans are buying from e-commerce sites, like Shopee, Lazada, Qoo10, Carousell, and others. There are some businesses that conduct their selling on their own websites.
And many entrepreneurs in the island nation have seen e-commerce sites as a viable platform for their business. An online business helps gain new customers and enables expansion. It’s an exciting time for retail companies as new and innovative ways are being found to procure goods, store them, and deliver them to customers. In addition, once customers start buying, online sellers can conduct market research and listen to improve their operations.
But whether they’re startup merchants selling for the first time, or traditional retail shops extending their reach online, there are laws that need to be considered before pursuing an online business. Good thing though that Singapore has one of the most comprehensive business support processes in the region.
If you’re planning to start an online business, here are the laws that you need to know:
Singapore Broadcasting Act
Under the Singapore Broadcasting Act (SBA), all Internet content in Singapore is considered broadcast. As such, it falls under the oversight of the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA). As such, all online services must be licensed. However, “class licensees” are automatically issued to some people, including e-commerce website owners. That means if you start an online business, you are not required to register for a license under SBA. But you are required to register once you start selling online newspapers or if you’re promoting political or religious causes. It’s better for you to know these before proceeding.
Business Name Registration Act
Whether you’ll be using an existing e-commerce platform or if you’re putting up your own online shop, you are still required to register as a business, under Business Name Registration Act (BNRA).
Registering your business has some benefits, including 1) lower taxes such as Partial Tax Exemption (PTE) and 2) protection from liability if you get sued by a client.
Computer and Internet-related laws
Singapore has several important laws covering digital transactions and the Internet. The Internet Code of Practice (ICP), issued by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), is a set of rules designed to ensure that online entities, particularly e-commerce platforms and resellers adhere to decency, public order and interest, and morality. Like the SBA, it is better that you know this law as Singapore has strict guidelines on these matters.
Meanwhile, under the Computer Misuse Act, all computer-related equipment, applications, and content must be protected at all times. This is important because as an e-commerce merchant, you must protect the data of buyers whose data you’re collecting. These data include the user’s home address, contact details, and government identification numbers.
Banking details, including credit card numbers, are also of particular interest especially since these can be used for fraudulent transactions. You must have information management policies in place to ensure the privacy and integrity of the data. Failure to do so can land you in court.
You must also be aware of the Electronics Transactions Act(ETA) Signed in 1998, its aim is to be bound to promises that you put in your web contracts. It covers all forms of signature requirements, including electronic filing of documents with government offices, reducing fraudulent activities, and setting rules to authenticate electronic records. Doing so would ensure consumer confidence in all online business transactions.
Related consumer protection laws
One of the older but still effective laws in Singapore is the Unfair Contract Terms Act (UCTA). Enacted in 1977, this law imposes limits on the extent to which civil liability for breach of contract can be avoided by means of contract terms and otherwise.
Another law is the Sale of Goods Act (SOGA) wherein sales contracts carry specific implied terms, particularly the state of the goods being sold or delivered. This means that if you promised that an item is in “good or satisfactory” condition, then the buyer must be made to agree to that.
Related to SOGA, the Misrepresentation Act is simply you being honest about what you are selling on your platform or website, otherwise, you are to be held accountable.
Related laws to intellectual property
There are a number of intellectual property laws governing basically all forms of transactions in Singapore. Among the most relevant is the Copyright Act, which extends to all forms of creative output, from written works, artwork, music, plays/musicals, and even computer programs.
These materials are also protected from infringement by anyone even as they are transmitted via the Internet. Even meta-tags—keywords that are coded into websites—can be used to infringe on copyright ownership. This can be done by using a trademarked name as a meta-tag, thus taking away traffic from the original owner of the trademark and bringing the Internet user to a different site. Under Singaporean laws, trademark and copyright owners can sue.
If you’re planning to sell products on your own website instead of existing e-commerce platforms, then you must be careful about using domain names. Using a trademarked name in your website address could land you in court. You have to use a domain name that is different and unique from others.
What’s worse is if you purchased the domain name and you try selling it to the trademark owner, in which case, you’ll be called cybersquatter. It does not matter if you purposely misspell the trademark. If it’s a known brand and you’re selling it, then you can be called as such.
Singapore is a country of laws and many of these are crafted to be future-proofed to ensure that any changes in the society can still utilize these laws. In the days of the Internet, new laws were created to protect online merchants and the general public. It is best that you remain knowledgeable about these laws so that you can also enjoy your experience as a digital entrepreneur in this country.