Do you read the terms and conditions written in tiny fonts on the back of order forms? The dreaded small print!
No? It probably won’t surprise you to hear you are not alone. Most of us do not read the small print. Why? Maybe the font is so tiny you need a microfiche reader to make sense of it. Perhaps we think they are all ‘standard’, and we have to accept them if we want the goods or services on offer, so there is no point in even reading them.
Imagine, now, that the small print included the statement that the product you were buying could wreak havoc with your company’s IT system, and that in accepting these terms you hereby confirm that you have taken the necessary steps to ensure this does not occur.
The chances are, the first time you will be made aware of these terms is when you contact the vendor to complain about a problem. “Aha!” exclaims the helpful customer service representative. “If you look at clause 2.4 in our Terms and Conditions, you will see…” Aha indeed.
Now put yourself in the position of the vendor. You have been advised that you should have some terms and conditions of sale for your product or service. Perhaps you look around your industry, or the internet, for some suitable terms to plagiarise. Or maybe you ask your solicitor to prepare something for you. And then you have to decide how best to communicate these terms to your clients.
“Put them on the invoice” suggests the sales team (who want to avoid having to mention such things to prospective clients, in case they put off a sale).
“That’s too late,” advises your solicitor, explaining that by the time the invoice is issued, the contract has already been made and terms sent with the invoice will be of no effect.
“Put them in with the order form” suggests your operations manager.
To mollify the sales team, who want to minimise the chance of anyone actually reading the terms and then deciding not to buy, you agree to put the terms on the back of the order form, shrinking the font until they all fit on a single side of A4.
And so, Small Print is born.
The job of the terms and conditions, and indeed of any contract, is to help the parties to understand the parameters of their relationship so that they each know what is expected of them, and what they can expect of each other. They should clearly set out the rights and remedies available to each party if something goes wrong. If they do their job properly, they will greatly reduce the chances of misunderstanding, and of problems arising.
By making terms and conditions small and inaccessible, companies rob them of their opportunity to do their job properly. In some cases (particularly in sales to consumers) small print may even prevent a company from being able to enforce its terms.
Most of us do not make unreasonable demands of our clients, and put nothing in our terms that a sensible client would object to. They show that you are a responsible supplier who understands his or her business and wants to be fair to their clients. Done properly, they can be a valuable addition to the sales process, building credibility and establishing the ground rules. Small print represents a missed opportunity to build great commercial relationships. Work with us and we’ll make you proud of your terms!
Founder and Managing Director, Devant