If an online retailer mistakenly discounts a sofa or TV by hundreds of pounds, should the shop honour the discount for customers who took up the offer? It seems not all companies will honour pricing mistakes.
It hasn’t been a good few weeks for retailers. I’m not talking about the downturn in sales or news of another big high street name (Peacocks) going into liquidation – although this is all pretty pessimistic stuff.
I’m talking about the recent spate of pricing mistakes on big-value items – and the bad PR that followed.
First, Next mistakenly advertised a pair of sofas worth £1,198 on its website for just £98. The pricing error remained uncorrected for nearly six hours and customers said that they had £98, plus delivery charges, debited from their bank accounts.
Then, Marks & Spencer advertised a Panasonic 50-inch 3D plasma TV, worth £1,099, for just £199. Again, savvy shoppers were quick to snap them up, and some reported the money coming out of their account.
So how should retailers deal with this situation? The ensuing events show just how differently pricing mistakes can be resolved.
Stand by your orders
Next point-blank refused to honour the ‘deals’, pointing to the small print in its terms and conditions which, it says, allows it to cancel orders before they are dispatched for delivery. This is how a Next spokesperson justified the decision:
‘This was a genuine and unfortunate error, which we corrected as quickly as possible. We then discussed with our local Trading Standards office how to deal with any orders that had been placed at the wrong price.
‘We are contacting all customers involved, explaining that unfortunately we will not be able to fulfil their order.’
But it was power to the people over in the M&S camp. After trying to resolve the problem by offering the bargain-hunters off a £25 ‘goodwill gesture’, the customers set up an online petition called ‘Marks & Spencer supply our TV’s that we paid for’. Hardly the catchiest (or most grammatically correct) campaign in the world, but it worked – M&S backtracked and stood by the orders.
So, it was happy days if you wanted a new TV, but not so good if you wanted a new sofa to watch it from.
Your rights with pricing disputes
But should M&S have backed down – or was Next at fault for not honouring its mistake? I spoke to our senior solicitor, Joanne Lezemore, to get her view on where customers stand legally:
‘Generally, if you enter into a contract for goods which a company fails or refuses to deliver, then a breach of contract occurs and you can look to the company for damages (being the cost of having to buy the goods elsewhere). But where it is clear that a mistake has been made, the law will not allow one person to benefit as a result.’
So if the goods were advertised cheaper than usual, you may be able to hold the company to a contract. However, where it is clear there is a mistake (would you really expect that plasma TV to be under 200 quid?), the consumer cannot then take advantage of that mistake. So what does Joanne think of these cases?
‘My own view is that, where the mistake is not clear, the company should be bound to honour the contract. But consumers also have to be aware that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is, and a company shouldn’t to be bound by what are clearly typing errors. I think the law has the right balance in these situations.’
Do you agree with Joanne or do you think those M&S customers were right to kick up a fuss? What would you do in the same situation?
Should online shops honour pricing mistakes?
Yes - it's the retailer's problem (60%, 80 Votes)
No - we all make mistakes (40%, 53 Votes)
Total Voters: 133