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Study on consumers' attitudes towards terms and conditions

Framework Contract n. EAHC/2011/CP/01

A team set up by Ecorys, which includes Marco Loos and Joasia Luzak as legal experts, won a bid to conduct Study on consumers' attitudes towards terms and conditions.

Study purpose and results

The proposed research aims to contribute to a better understanding of consumers’ decision-making when it comes to reading, understanding and accepting Terms and Conditions. More specifically, it aims:

  • to examine the causes and consequences of non-readership of T&Cs; and
  • to assess the effectiveness of interventions aimed at improving T&C readership and comprehension, and their influence on acceptance of the contract.

Final study

M. Elshout, M. Elsen, J. Leenheer, M.B.M. Loos & J.A. Luzak, Study on consumers’ attitudes towards Terms and Conditions (T&Cs), Final report, June 2016, DOI: 10.2818/950733, published online at http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/consumer_evidence/behavioural_research/consumers_attitudes_terms_conditions/index_en.htm

Abstract

Previous research has shown that when buying products and services online, the vast majority of consumers accept Terms and Conditions (T&Cs) without even reading them. The current research examined effects of interventions aimed at making consumers aware of the quality of such T&Cs. This was done by 1) shortening and simplifying the T&Cs and 2) adding a quality cue to an online store, such as the presence of a logo of a national consumer organisation accompanied by the statement “these terms and conditions are fair”. The main study consisted of three experiments and was conducted in 12 Member States with 1000 respondents in each Member State. In each experiment, consumers visited an online store and went through all the steps of an ordering process. One of these steps was accepting the T&Cs. Key findings are that shortening and simplifying the terms and conditions results in improved readership of the T&Cs, a slightly better understanding of the T&Cs, and a more positive attitude towards the T&Cs. Moreover, adding a quality cue to an online store increases trust and purchase intentions. Which quality cue is trusted the most depends on what type of online store consumers are visiting. For domestic online stores, a quality cue by a national consumer organisation is trusted most; for foreign online stores, a quality cue by a European consumer organisation is trusted most. The patterns were similar across Member States.

Final study Executive summary