Wednesday 27 November, 2013

How Your Holiday Shopping Could Turn into a Retailing Nightmare

When you’re shopping online this holiday season, you should be extra careful about who you buy from. Make sure you read the small print in the terms of service or you may end up caught in a retailing nightmare.

Sole Discretion

If you think I’m exaggerating, there’s a story on BBC that you need to hear. The story reports a couple is getting sued for nothing more than leaving a bad review of a store whose service was truly lousy.

When Jen Palmer’s husband ordered some trinkets from the site, he assumed they’d arrive at his house. When they didn’t, he contacted the site and got no response. So, he did the last thing he could and left a bad review on the Ripoff Report. The review didn’t say anything defamatory; it just told the story.

Sounds reasonable enough, right? Well, didn’t think so. The couple received a threatening letter telling them they had to pay $3,500 for the bad review because of damage to the company’s reputation. When the couple did the only sensible thing (ignored it), the company reported them to credit agencies and a black mark was placed on their credit.

Is just a scam company? It sounds like it. But sure enough in their terms of service, they had a ‘non-disparagement clause.’ The clause says that anything other than ‘fair and honest public feedback’ was grounds for demanding a $3,500 payment, even if the company took your money and nothing was delivered.

The clause leaves it up to the company’s ‘sole discretion,’ which means it can try to extort just about anybody. You can laugh or cry at the sorry state of consumer rights, but take a look for yourself on’s terms of use. It’s enforceable apparently.

The Price of Your Soul

Worse things could happen if you don’t read a company’s TOS. They could take not only your money, but your soul. That’s what GameStation did a few years ago. The Immortal Soul Clause stated that customers who bought from the online shop gave up the right to their souls (however, there was an opt-out box that allowed you to buy from the site but keep your soul).

Is GameStation a dangerously insane sleazebag company? Actually, it’s not. It put the clause in its TOS to make a point, which is that nobody reads the TOS. Only about 12% of purchasers opted out of the soul selling, which meant that GameStation, at least legally, owned thousands of its customers’ souls.

The company has since sent out an email legally nullifying the clause and giving people back their immortal souls.

How to Avoid Scammer Companies and Rip-off Retailers

When you’re shopping online this holiday season, make sure you read and understand the terms of service. If there’s anything weird there, you can shop somewhere else. You may also want to check reviews to see what others have said about the company and contact them once to see if there are human beings standing by.

Your very soul could be at stake.

Bob Steele

Bob Steele is an entrepreneur, software developer, marketer, and author living in the Denver metropolitan area. He’s an avid outdoorsman who loves skiing, hiking, fishing, boating, and just plain having fun. His interests include games, space, technology, physics, cooking (well eating actually), economics, business, internationalism, and team sports. With over thirty years of professional consulting experience, Bob has been exposed to many diverse business models and has gained a sensible approach to life. Bob’s company, WaveCentric is focused on commerce, marketing, and entertainment related products.

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