Setting your own terms of sale

consumer paying with credit card

Tired of restocking fees and other fine-print hassles? Fed up with retailers saying “It's our policy” as if that were one of the Ten Commandments etched in stone? Disgusted by stores that arrogantly assume their policy automatically trumps your policy? Outraged by companies who think a perfunctory “We're sorry” is adequate compensation for any problem they caused?

Fight back with your own fine print. Here's how in two easy steps:

First, place a sticker on your credit card that says:

By accepting this card as payment for this purchase, you agree to all of the terms on (link to a web page listing them).

Even better: design your own credit card with that text as part of the image. If you pay by check, stamp a similar phrase onto your checks. If you print your own checks, you could link to the terms or print them on the check if they fit into the space available.

Second, create a web page listing terms that favor you, such as:

  1. The terms on this page supercede all legal agreements between us, including (but not limited to) the fine print on your receipts and your store policies, whether posted or sprung on unsuspecting customers after the sale.
  2. If you have a restocking fee, you agree to waive it.
  3. If I am not completely satisfied with my purchase, I may return it for a full no-questions-asked refund within 90 days, or longer if anything you did or failed to do contributed to the delay.
  4. For any item returned, you will immediately refund 100% of my purchase price, paid in cash or a refund to my credit card.
  5. Since I am the customer and the customer is always right, you agree that my policies—favoring me—supercede your policies that favor you. Just as businesses seemingly pull policies out of thin air to suit them, I may also create or amend my policies on the fly to suit me.
  6. If you waste my time by arguing or selling defective or poorly designed item(s), you agree to pay me $100/hour plus all legal fees and expenses I may incur in such argument, legal dispute, or trip to return defective or poorly designed item(s).
  7. If I am penalized by a mistake you made, you will not say you're sorry, you will prove it by giving double my money back.
  8. If you sell me merchandise that you know was defective or should have known was defective, you agree to pay 100 times my money back.
  9. If I am fined by the government for reselling an item purchased from you, you agree to pay that fine in full, in addition to my legal expenses.
  10. If you charge for something I did not receive, you agree to pay me 1000 times the cost of that item.
  11. If you permit hackers or other unauthorized people to access my personal or financial information, such as credit card numbers, you agree to pay all of my personal and legal expenses incurred dealing with the mess you created, most likely because your programmers didn't do everything they should have done. You will also pay me a $500,000 fine by certified check within 10 business days after I notify you of the data breach. If you fail to pay that penalty in full on time, you shall pay an additional interest penalty of 1.5% per month, or the maximum permitted by law, whichever is greater, in addition to all legal fees and expenses I may incur in collecting this penalty. You shall also pay me $100/hour for all time spent collecting this penalty.
  12. By accepting my credit card/check as payment for this purchase, you agree to all of the terms on this page. If you later try to wiggle out of one or more of the provisions in this contract, you agree to pay me a $250,000 penalty for your breach of this contract for fraudulently inducing me to buy your merchandise and later reneging on this agreement. You shall pay that fine by certified check within 10 business days after I notify you of your breach of contract. If you fail to pay that penalty in full on time, you shall pay an additional interest penalty of 1.5% per month, or the maximum permitted by law, whichever is greater, in addition to all legal fees and expenses I may incur in collecting this penalty. You shall also pay me $100/hour for all time spent collecting this penalty.
  13. If you disagree with anything on this page, your sole recourse is to notify me before charging my credit card for the purchase; I will be happy to take my business elsewhere.

Protecting yourself from known-to-be-defective merchandise

One of the above clauses deals with the sale of merchandise that is known to be defective. Don't think this happens? It does. I was in a big-box lumber warehouse (BBLW) in an upscale area one day when I witnessed an attractive, well-dressed woman screaming at an employee who restocked the defective item she'd just returned so another customer would buy it. She clearly did not want someone else to suffer the bother of receiving a defective product and returning it.

From what she said, it was obvious the defective product she bought had been opened and returned by a prior customer, so—to confirm her suspicion about what that BBLW does with returned defective items—she followed the employee who took it and returned it to the shelf. When it was obvious to her what the employee was about to do, she calmly explained why he shouldn't do that. The employee brushed her off and said he was going to do it anyway. That's when she raised her voice, angered by a corporate policy (or an employee inventing his own) that permitted the sale of defective items, knowing that some customer might not be smart enough to realize the product was bad or too busy to return it. After most of our products were made in China, the percentage of merchandise I bought that was dead on arrival or soon thereafter was so great that I simply didn't have enough time to return it all. (See my article on Made-in-China junk.)

About being charged for something you did not receive

After umpteen visits to that BBLW, I frequently noticed that if I bought multiple items, I'd often be charged for one more than I received. Paid for nine, received eight—you get the picture. Statistically, if errors are made ringing up merchandise, you'd think the error would favor the customer half the time and the store half the time. However, after a string of these mistakes all favored the store, I realized they may not have been honest mistakes but deliberate, premeditated theft.

Interestingly, when I caught some of these errors seconds after checking out and informed the cashier standing five feet away, I was always told that I would have to deal with it by going to their Return Desk, possibly waiting in line, and requesting a refund. She made the error and I'd need to go there and wait in line to get my money back? Nuts to that, I thought, so I insisted the store manager see me here ASAP and refund my money, which he did. Stores are used to pushing customers around, telling them the way it's going to be. If you put your foot down and tell them that you won't stand for nonsense, they will often back down because they frequently don't have a legal leg to stand on and don't have much experience in dealing with customers who stand their ground.

About being fined by the government for reselling an item

The federal government recently implemented draconian penalties for any American selling items, or even reselling them, that may be contaminated. (See the CPSC Handbook for Resale Stores and Product Resellers (another source) and then follow their advice to visit their website frequently for updated information—as if you have time!) Thus, if you sell an item for $1 at a garage sale and don't do everything they insist you must beforehand to test for possible toxins, one itsy-bitsy mistake could ruin your life as the feds imposed financial penalties, even if that item never harmed anyone!

Is that all? No. The tyrants—excuse me, bureaucrats—in Washington also mandate that you perform safety inspections and ensure the product meets all listed criteria. Wouldn't it make much more sense to put the burden of compliance on manufacturers and stores that sell those items?

Related: Rather than recalling unsafe products, why not ensure they're safe in the first place?

Other provisions to protect you

Some unscrupulous techs
can't resist looking at pictures
stored on computers owned
by beautiful women

You may also add other provisions that compensate you for various business wrongs.

For example, a former geek for one of the big-name computer repair businesses revealed that if you are an attractive woman who brings your computer to them for repair, it is safe to assume they will look at all of your photos on that computer. Not only is that a heinous invasion of privacy, but it is wasting your time, delaying the return of your computer.

You can discourage this wanton behavior by adding this clause:

If my computer, phone, or other electronic device is returned to you for servicing, you will access only those files absolutely necessary, and none of my personal or business files, photographs, address, phone number, account information, Social Security number, credit card numbers, patent/trademark/trade secret/proprietary information, bank account numbers, or other financial information. By prying into things that are none of your business, you agree that your behavior is reprehensible and deserves to be penalized with a $100,000,000 fine, plus all legal fees and expenses I may incur in collecting this penalty, in addition to an interest penalty of 1.5% per month, or the maximum permitted by law, whichever is greater, along with $100/hour for all of my time spent collecting this penalty. You furthermore agree that your debt cannot be discharged by bankruptcy.

Hotel/motel protections

Some hotel or motel proprietors show their true colors after they get your money and a problem develops. This happened to me once when I found there was no hot water for a shower. I called the owner, who said the other customers must have used all of it. From his nonchalant tone, it was obvious this wasn't news to him. I asked for a partial refund to compensate me, and he told me to #&@* off. I'd paid in cash and had no recourse, but paying by credit card with suitable terms of sale could protect you from this and other deficiencies, such as inadequate room cooling or heating. One of my brothers once stayed in a Canadian motel with almost no hot water and a room temperature in the upper thirties, forcing him to wear his snowmobile suit 24 hours per day!

Negotiating your own hotel/motel price

Michigan's Upper Peninsula in fall

I was traveling in Michigan's Upper Peninsula one fall, past the tourist season, when I pulled into the empty parking lot of a huge (300+ room) motel. I decided to put the laws of supply and demand to a real-world test. I went into the office and asked their room rate: $70. I said they obviously had far more supply than demand, so I offered to give them $20, adding they'd either make $20 that night or nothing.

They took the $20.

I tried the same thing at other motels and usually succeeded. One place flat-out said “no ” and another in Mackinaw City claimed they had “lots of people coming later” even though it was well past the time most travelers tuck themselves into motels and their parking lot was almost as empty as those for snowmobile dealers on the 4th of July.

In conclusion

Like most people, I am not out to screw businesses. I just want a decent product at a fair price and don't want to be penalized for a mistake made by someone else. If I am nice enough to give my business to a store, it should not return the favor by rubbing my nose in fine print written by a lawyer who is clearly doing everything he can to make life better for his client and worse for me.

If enough people are interested in this, I will create a website giving users the ability to customize and host their own terms of sale so they can link directly to their page.

Related topics

Made-in-China junk

Want to save money on hospitalizations whether or not you're insured?


  1. This page serves as public notice to any business I purchase from that these terms apply to any product or service I obtain from you. You agree to accept all of them or to notify me before accepting payment that you refuse one or more, in which case I will not buy from you.
  2. How To Haggle For Anything
  3. 19 Things You Didn't Know You Could Negotiate
  4. Consumer Anger Pays Off: Strategic Displays May Aid Negotiations based on Gaming Emotions in Social Interactions
  5. Getting Angry Can Help Negotiations in Some Cultures, Hurt It in Others based on Cultural Variance in the Interpersonal Effects of Anger in Negotiations
  6. Anger Has An Upside, Study Suggests
  7. People Who Suppress Anger Are More Likely to Become Violent When Drunk based on Alcohol, suppressed anger and violence
    Comment: I am not surprised. Blowing off steam is healthy. People who try to hold anger in often harm themselves emotionally and physically, and sometimes go postal. People also have a need to be human—and therefore a need to occasionally be less than perfect—without PC police jumping all over them. This is one reason why attempts to enforce PC speech is counterproductive.
  8. Anger Can Make You More Rational, Not Less, According To Recent Studies
  9. A Good Fight May Keep You And Your Marriage Healthy
The views expressed on this page may or may not reflect my current opinions, nor do they necessarily represent my past ones. After reading a slice of what I wrote in my various websites and books, you may conclude that I am a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican. Wrong; there is a better alternative. Just as the primary benefit from debate classes results when students present and defend opinions contrary to their own, I use a similar strategy as a creative writing tool to expand my brainpower—and yours. Mystified? Stay tuned for an explanation. PS: The wheels in your head are already turning a bit faster, aren't they?

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Reference: Imagining dialogue can boost critical thinking: Excerpt: “Examining an issue as a debate or dialogue between two sides helps people apply deeper, more sophisticated reasoning …”

Comments (1)

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Comment #110 by Matt
January 26 2011 03:29:22 PM

Bring on the citizen legal clause website. Amen!

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