While British consumers are clued up when it comes to reading the terms and conditions of things we buy face to face, it seems we just can’t be bothered with the small print when we shop online.
Some research carried out by investment firm Skandia found that only 7% of Brits read the T&Cs when buying things online. The other 93% just tick the ‘I agree’ box and merrily spend away in cyberspace.
This I can understand. The habits we have when consuming online are far different from those we have when we’re actively out shopping. Firstly, there’s the tangibility aspect – when you can see, feel, wear or ride your purchase, you want to know that you’re doing the right thing. And that often means checking to see if you can get your money back if you’re dissatisfied.
But buying online’s a different kettle of fish. It’s fluid, swift and immediate – you don’t want to be faffing around squinting at the screen reading the small print when you’ve got emails to read or (in my case) pictures of cats in jumpers to look at.
Ignore the small print at your peril
However, as online consumption continues to rocket, ignoring T&Cs is increasingly starting to have a detrimental effect. Skandia’s research shows that one in five of us have suffered as a result of ticking the terms and conditions box without having done our homework before buying.
I’ve had first-hand experience of this. When I bought my snazzy smartphone online, I took out a two-year contract with my network. I was happy with the deal, but in my haste to get it and start playing around with its apps and camera, I didn’t realise the phone itself only came with a one-year warranty.
Now one of the buttons doesn’t work but because I’ve had the phone for over a year, it’ll cost me a fortune to get it fixed. I’ve got to turn the blasted thing on and off every time I want to get into a different part – especially annoying when I lose my score on an epic game of Angry Birds just because I want to send a text.
Naturally, I called my provider to complain but was told it was spelled out in the T&Cs, and indeed it was. My ignorance has left me with a redundant piece of kit and severely diminished gaming ability.
What would make us read the small print?
But what if it was an expensive holiday that you had to cancel, and you didn’t realise you couldn’t change the dates? Or an investment fund you’d bought, only to find out that when markets fall, you can’t get your cash back? Or that smashed car window that wasn’t covered? This is when disregarding the fine print can really hit you hard.
Perhaps it’s our responsibility to make sure we understand the terms of purchase when shopping online and we should be more vigilant? But Skandia thinks that providers should be getting rid of jargon and making things clearer to people. It’s even enlisted the venerable Clive Anderson to record a video reading its T&Cs to raise awareness.
But would we really be more engaged if there was a celeb, like Stephen Fry or Jonathan Ross, reading terms and conditions to us? If so, who would you want to do it? And have you had a bad shopping experience online because you weren’t clued up on the details under the bonnet?