A Large Amount Of Small Print

The Guardian journalist Alex Hern has just written an article about the curse of website terms and conditions or end-user licence agreements” (EULAs).

So let us be upfront and honest here – no one likes them. However, they are a very necessary evil.

Some websites and services try to go for the exclude every liability and eventuality in uppercase and without so much as a comma. Others go to the other extreme and reduce their terms down to one paragraph.

One well known website reduced their terms down to be nice to other members and “…don’t be that creepy guy”. This is easy to understand, to a point. But we shudder at the thought of the legal time and bills generated from trying to define what does or does not constitute creepy behaviour. So cute, but pretty difficult to enforce.

That said we like to have our own fun with our terms. One of our products contained the line – “Free case of beer if you read to here”. Sadly we can report not one single claim for beer was made to us, even though the line remained in our terms for 12 months.

Another website gamestation altered their terms for April Fools to read as follows:

“By placing an order via this web site on the first day of the fourth month of the year 2010 Anno Domini, you agree to grant Us a non transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul”.

“Should We wish to exercise this option, you agree to surrender your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within 5 (five) working days of receiving written notification from gamesation.co.uk or one of its duly authorised minions. We reserve the right to serve such notice in 6 (six) foot high letters of fire, however we can accept no liability for any loss or damage caused by such an act,” said the terms. “If you a) do not believe you have an immortal soul, b) have already given it to another party, or c) do not wish to grant Us such a license, please click the link below to nullify this sub-clause and proceed with your transaction.”

The spoof terms included a link to a £5 voucher – apparently not one of their 7,500 customers on 1st April clicked on the link to claim their discount voucher.

Mind you it is not just website terms that are ignored. We remember as young lawyers sitting in a meeting with senior executives at Tesco who were honestly perplexed by their inability to give away cars.

They had a joint promotion with a certain well-known car company. They had cars parked outside participating stores with big banners and other hoopla. It was basically a lottery, customers had to check their till receipts to see if they had won a free car as the tills randomly generated “winning tickets”.

Of the number of winning tickets generated only one car from a total of twenty was actually claimed. There were people literally walking past cars they had just won, but were oblivious to their good fortune.

But then there are the “freaks” – people who actually read and seek to understand website terms. We like these people. All websites should like these people – they are great customers. These are the people who email us to seek clarification of our terms. In reality they are just testing our customer service response times, and whether a human will actually respond to them. These people nearly always go on to purchase; they make for great customers because they become repeat customers.

So for websites please produce clear and fair terms, it helps to generate trust and customer loyalty.

For customers please read website terms there might be free beer buried in them.


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