Dear Santa – all I want for Christmas is

A Working website

I took a phone call recently from Jenny (not her real name of course!) an old client. We’d first advised Jenny 3 years ago when her luxury goods business had problems with credit card fraud. We re-drafted her terms and conditions and included new payment terms in accordance with the Distance Selling directives. Her merchant services provider had insisted that she had professionally drafted terms, and the new systems for delivery and taking payment seemed to almost eliminate the problems. Job done!

Well not quite. In summer Jenny decided she would have a new, re-freshed website ready for the Christmas rush. She’d contacted a number of website suppliers and chose a new developer. She is based in London. By August all was ready for transfer to the new website. In September, the website was beta tested, appeared to work ok and then went live on 1 October. Immediately Jenny saw problems. Orders dropped off a cliff edge and the new website was nowhere to be seen on Google – even when key words were used. Jenny’s old website was quite well optimised for certain key products.

It didn’t take long to get to the bottom of the problem of orders not going through. Customers simply couldn’t check out on the website. So once they’d put items in the basket, payment was either delayed or couldn’t be taken at all, with the customers left with a page that just froze. Angry calls and emails to the developer ended up with no clear result; although some features were improved. She refused to pay him the final payment. He couldn’t make the site work properly and refused to take her calls. A complete impasse resulted.

By mid November, things had deteriorated to the point where he wanted more money to resolve matters and she was watching her business disappear down the pan. He threatened to sue for money owed and take her complete site down. She threatened to counterclaim for business losses.

Now there are all kinds of technical reasons for the faults – which it transpired arose mainly because a key member of staff had left at a critical time in creating the website. Jenny had chosen her web developer because he had provided the lowest quote – and she simply signed his badly drafted terms of business. We’ve all done it. However, as Red Adair famously said “if you think going to an expert is expensive, wait until you’ve used an amateur.”

A good website is akin to having the best shop on the High Street. With a proper contract and specification planning and sign off schedules incorporated into the terms a lot of this headache could have been avoided. So if you are planning a new website in 2014 just email Dan@virtuosolegal.com for a checklist that should help you agree proper terms and avoid problems arising between developer and client.

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