Be Wary of Evergreen, Auto-Renewing Website Contracts
December 21, 2020
Most companies make their money the right way – by making their customers happy. But there are always a few that find a way to make money off of angry customers. One famous example was a sunglasses company owner who determined in 2010 that negative reviews led to higher search rankings, and routinely threatened to hurt customers. (Google fixed the problem shortly after the story became public.)
Here’s another example. Lately, we’ve been talking more and more with extremely angry shop owners who are caught in “evergreen” website contracts – multi-year contracts that auto-renew forever, with only a short window before the auto-renewal period to cancel. Some owners never even signed the auto-renewal contract paperwork. When they asked for physical proof of the contract, they were emailed a document with a forgery of their signature. Others are given different auto-renewal dates on different phone calls.
The most shocking part of this scam is that these providers are multi-million dollar companies. Some of the shop owners caught in the scam have found success by contacting their state Attorney General’s office who has gotten back to them to let them know that the contract won’t hold weight in their state. But for good reason, many shop owners don’t want to fight against these giant companies that could drown a small shop in legal bills, or they just don’t have the time to take on one more thing. So for now the shop owners are resigned to paying to be held hostage by the shady website provider.
What Can You Do?
If you are currently looking for a website provider, or will be soon – ask every provider you talk to if they have an evergreen contract. If they say they do, you should think twice about doing business with them. If you want to proceed, make sure you have a copy of the contract and understand the details of when and how it renews, including if you will be subject to price increases. You may also want to put a reminder on your calendar 45 days before the contract will automatically renew to review how happy you are with your website provider so that you ensure you give yourself a chance to make a change in the window in which you can tell them that you aren’t renewing.
If you are uncertain if you are locked in a contract with your current website provider – contact them to ask. You may be as happy as can be right now, but it’s going to be to your benefit to understand the specific provisions of the contract and when your mandatory annual renewal date is. If you decide you want to review your happiness level with their service before your next renewal, you will now know when your window will be for doing so. Don’t be surprised if they stonewall you or take a while to reply to your requests for the contract. We’ve seen that happen especially when the renewal date is closing in.
If you are a hostage in an evergreen contract with an expiration date a long ways out – you do have options. We certainly can’t give legal advice, but as we mentioned above we’ve heard from shop owners who have been successful by sharing the contract with their state’s Attorney General’s office. If you have a lawyer friend, ask them to take a look at it. Some states have laws against evergreen contracts in certain industries or require the provider to notify the customer when the contract is set for renewal. Some shop owners have just stood up against the bullying of the larger company and told them they were done and moved on without paying another cent. And remember, with things like Google Reviews, Yelp, the Better Business Bureau, Facebook, etc. you have a forum to voice your displeasure. By using those opportunities, you can build leverage to get the result you are looking for.
In the website business, it takes time for customers to become profitable. But we can’t imagine forcing unhappy customers to stay with us. It’s not good for business, and it’s certainly not good for employee morale. Just imagine what these companies’ customer “service” teams have to deal with each day. We bill in 90-day increments, and we don’t do long-term contracts. You can call to cancel anytime.
Stay safe – and be careful who you do business with!
To learn how Repair Shop Websites can help you get more customers to your shop, without a contract, call us at 866-665-1605 or email us at Team_RSW@RepairShopWebsites.com.