Those of you who were up early on Wednesday morning might have caught Alison Black on Sky TV or Radio 5 Live, discussing why people are drawn into broadband/TV packages that often prove more expensive than they first anticipated and, in some cases, provide services they never use.
Alison gave an information design perspective on research commissioned by the Post Office and Freeview. She described the techniques providers use, such as attracting people with partial offers that are available for the first 6 months of 24 month packages; additionally how they present detailed terms and conditions, in small (often grey) print, in multiple windows on the web. The end result is that consumers have to work hard to understand what they’re signing up for.
According to the Post Office/Freeview research 72% of people said they gave up trying to read terms and conditions when choosing a package. This figure is perhaps an optimistic report: research by New York University Law School* which tracked people’s use of the web and found that consumers only looked at terms and conditions in a tiny fraction of on-line transactions, and usually for far less time than they would have needed to read them in full.
* Bakos, Y., Marotta-Wurgler, F. and Trossen, D. (2009). Does Anyone Read the Fine Print? Testing a Law and Economics Approach to Standard Form Contracts. CELS 2009 4th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies: 9-40.