From Promise to Form: How Contracting Online Changes Consumers

57 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2016 Last revised: 9 Mar 2017

See all articles by David A. Hoffman

David A. Hoffman

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

Date Written: 2016


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.

Keywords: contract law, millennials, individual differences, contracting, form contracts, digital contracts, internet commerce, psychology and law

JEL Classification: K12

Suggested Citation

Hoffman, David A., From Promise to Form: How Contracting Online Changes Consumers (2016). 91 New York University Law Review 1595 (2016), Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2016-10, U of Penn, Inst for Law & Econ Research Paper No. 17-7, Available at SSRN: or

David A. Hoffman (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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