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The Fine Print

the fine printLawyers love it. I hate it, and I’m pretty sure my customers do too.
Fine print is useful for condensing tons of boilerplate legalese that no one is going to read anyway.

Fine print is also a great place to hide something. I don’t trust it, and when I see it on paper or online, alarm bells ring.

Resist the tendency to put anything that your customers might not like in the fine print. If there’s something that has the slightest negative tinge, it needs to be out there. You don’t have to trumpet it, but you have to make it easy to see. Don’t be this guy:

Why do we need your credit card number for a free subscription?
It allows us to verify your identity. You card will not be charged. Enter your information and we’ll send you straight to the Super Awesome Online Report right away!*

*Thank you so much for giving us a trial. We are sure you will be thrilled with our club. After your trial period, you will be billed 7.95 / month unless you cancel your subscription. Simply write “cancel subscription” on a piece of paper, place it in a hermetically sealed jar of mayonnaise and Fedex it overnight too: I shouldn’t have put my card into that website, PO BOX BR549, NY NY 10023

This crap is everywhere. They know that you most likely won’t spend 10 minutes on their site, and will also forget to cancel. Then they will hit your card month after month, until you notice the charge.

So far as I know this isn’t illegal, but isn’t sales or marketing either. It may not be legal fraud but it sure is moral fraud. This is not a technique to sell product, it’s a scam that pretends to be marketing.

Why does this work so well? People are BLIND. I know, because I can’t get them to see some things I want them to see!

Seriously. We offer free ground shipping on some of our sites. But we can’t do it for all of the products on those sites – some of them are quite large. Unfortunately, the store system we are using doesn’t have a way to apply free ground shipping to selected products.

We are reduced to using a coupon code for free shipping. We put it on every product page that applies, and on the category pages too. It looks like this:


This item is eligible for Free Ground Shipping!

Enter coupon code: FREE SHIPPING during checkout.


It’s big. It’s red. It’s centered in the middle of the page, just above the add to cart buttons.

People still miss it. We still get indignant emails about how we promised free shipping, then charged them. But this fades rapidly when I reply with a link to the product page. THEN they see it. And I make sure their shipping is refunded.

People miss stuff all the time. They are careless, and then upset if they think they’ve been tricked.

Give your customers the info they need to make an informed decision. Put it all out there, right in front of them. Include the stuff they may not like: “Please allow 2-4 weeks for delivery”. Don’t try to trick them and don’t use fine print anywhere, if you can help it.

People don’t like surprises, and they don’t like being misled. Don’t be that guy.

*I might add, don’t use a store system that won’t let you apply individual shipping rules to products – but that is another post.
*Nothing in this post should be construed as a representation that it is worth forwarding to all of your friends, linking to, or liking on Facebook, but you should do all of those things anyway.