I doubt you got into marketing with a burning desire to shake up the way brands write their terms and conditions. You might not think they have a role to play in attracting or keeping customers. You might not think about them at all. Leave them to the legal department and you’ve followed the rules – and covered your backs.
No one reads them anyway.
Ah. But they do.
Well, they try to.
The Writer recently asked just over 2,000 people if they ever bothered to read the small print before accepting terms and conditions when buying or signing up for things online. Just 9 per cent said they didn’t read Ts&Cs at all.
So, nine out of ten customers take a quick peek, at least. In fact, the average time spent reading Ts&Cs turned out to be 4 minutes 42 seconds. That’s almost five whole minutes of undivided attention.
I was amazed. Because I’m the one out of ten who doesn’t bother. But I wasn’t surprised by what we found when we looked at how long Ts&Cs take to read and how hard they are to understand. We had a look at the small print of a random selection of brands, including Amazon, Barclays Bike Hire, Spotify, nPower, LV Insurance and Tesco Direct.
Using a reading rate of 250 words a minute, we found the average time it takes to read a set of Ts&Cs in full is 28 minutes. Vodafone’s would take three days if you read all their different sets of Ts&Cs.
And if you stopped off to read PayPal’s small print, it would be an hour and 42 minutes before you could go through with your payment. The battle to get terms and conditions for financial services into something approximating to “plain English” has been going on for decades, so it was good to see an insurance company scoring well for keeping it brief. LV Insurance’s small print took six minutes to read.
To measure how difficult Ts&Cs can be to read, we used the Flesch-Kincaid readability test. Most business writing should have a score of around 65. That’s like The Economist magazine, the BBC news website, and this blog. It equates to the “reading age’’ of a 13 to 14-year-old. When we crunched the numbers, the scores for these Ts&Cs were mostly in the 30s. That’s like The Harvard Law Review, equating to a university-level “reading age”.
One of the worst culprits, Spotify, actually broke the system with a negative score for its impenetrable legalese. A business based on 21st-century technology with 19th-century Ts&Cs. Take a look. I’m not kidding.
But some brands are making an effort: the best terms and conditions we looked at were short, structured so you could easily skim-read, and written in clear, natural English. We like LinkedIn’s upfront summaries, Vodafone’s clear subheadings and BT’s short paragraphs – and Facebook has inventive ways of explaining difficult ideas.
By and large, these improvements were small tweaks in what’s still a sea of legalese. But it’s clear that Ts&Cs are a serious stopping-off point on every “customer journey”.
You’ve got their attention for around five minutes. Make that count. Start that revolution.