T&C's need some TLC

The terms & conditions of major online businesses are unacceptable, according to a new survey.


The Writer, practitioners and arbiters of good writing, recently looked into the Terms & Conditions of 30 leading business from various sectors and including E.ON, PayPal, Tesco and Vodafone. Their short report: These terms and conditions are unacceptable is worth reading and as you'd expect, is well written.

They found that many of the T&C's in their sample were written with long sentences, obscure language and in a confusing structure. After measuring the reading time for each of the terms, they calculated the average to be just under half an hour. Which says nothing about the ability to understand what's been read.

As well as looking at the T&C's they interviewed a representative sample of people in the UK about how long they spent reading the small print.

People read T&C's shock

Suprisingly, the amount of time people spent ploughing through the legalese is as long as 5 minutes on average. In an era of short dwell time that is a significant investment of time and effort by the customer and one that should not be overlooked. As The Writer point out:

Terms and conditions need to be considered a serious stopping-off point on every 'customer journey'

What about the UX?

We think that T&Cs could be a lot better in terms of user experience too. Signing up processes are often elegantly realised online but the same can't be said for terms and conditions. Understandbly the design imperative is to accelerate acceptance but it is unfair to expect customers to work so hard to find out about the service they want to use.

These agreements are important, they should not be hidden or made less accessible to site users and thereby customers. Many organisations today are concerned about accessibility online but then present customers with terms that are inaccessible to many and unreadable to all but a few lawyers.

With good writing and user experience design T&Cs can signal a brand's values and its customer focus. The small print could make a big difference.