From Promise to Form: How Contracting Online Changes Consumers

December
2016
David A. Hoffman
I hypothesize that different experiences with online contracting have led some consumers to see contracts—both online and offline—in distinctive ways. Experimenting on a large, nationally representative sample, this paper provides evidence of age-based and experience-based differences in views of consumer contract formation and breach. I show that younger subjects who have entered into more online contracts are likelier than older ones to think that contracts can be formed online, that digital contracts are legitimate while oral contracts are not, and that contract law is unforgiving of breach.
 
I argue that such individual differences in views of contract formation and enforceability might lead firms to discriminate among consumers. There is some evidence that businesses are already using variance in views of contract to induce consumers to purchase goods they would not otherwise have. I conclude by suggesting how the law might respond to such behavior.
 
This article appears in the December 2016 Issue: Volume 91, Number 6
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