In 2015-2016, we conducted several studies on consumer attitudes towards Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) for the European Commission. For this project, we collaborated with UvA, Ecorys, GfK, and GlobalVision. Previous research has shown that when buying products and services online, the vast majority of consumers accept T&Cs without even reading them. The current researched focused on (1) increasing readability (for consumers motivated to read the T&Cs) and (2) creating effortless awareness of the quality of T&Cs (for consumer not motivated to read the T&Cs). In the experiments we conducted, consumers visited online stores containing T&Cs.
To increase readability, we shortened and simplified the T&Cs. In addition, we investigated whether adding a reading cost cue – stating that “reading the terms and conditions takes less than five minutes” – would affect the number of consumers accessing the T&Cs to read them. Both strategies resulted in improved readership of the T&Cs. Shortening and simplifying the T&Cs also resulted in a better understanding of the T&Cs and a more positive attitude towards the T&Cs (consumers were more satisfied with the content, less frustrated when reading the T&Cs and trusted the T&Cs more).
To create effortless awareness, we added a quality cue to the website with the statement “these terms and conditions are fair”. We investigated effects of several quality cues, such as a national consumer organisation (Figure 1), a European consumer organisation (Figure 2) and customer feedback (a star rating system). These quality cues increased trust in the T&Cs and purchase intentions. Some cues were trusted more than others: On domestic websites (e.g., a Dutch website for a Dutch consumer), the national consumer organisation quality cue was trusted the most, while on foreign websites (e.g., an English website for a Dutch consumer), the European consumer organisation quality cue was trusted the most.
Figure 1. Example of the national consumer organisation quality cue
Figure 2. Example of a website with the European consumer organisation quality cue