/ Shopping

Ask Which? – I bought something for nothing

Cheeky Frankie: I saw a Kindle case for £0.00 online, and for a laugh I ordered ten to see what would happen. Although I had to pay postage and packing, they were delivered. But now the website wants them back.

I was amazed to see I received a confirmation email stating I would be charged £3.95 for my purchase (just the p&p). I was even further surprised to receive my parcel a few days later.

I only did this for a joke, expecting to receive an email saying they had made a pricing mistake. I never expected to actually receive the items. However, I’ve received an email from the company asking for the goods back. Do I have to give them back, or as they have already sent them to me can I keep them? Thanks for your help.

Stephen McGlade, solicitor for Which? Legal Service, responds:

In order to show that you have a legally binding contract you must show that your offer to purchase the Kindle case was accepted by the company. Although there’s no authority on this point, the general position when shopping on the internet is that the offer is made by you when you click on the ‘submit’ or ‘order’ button. The acceptance would occur if the supplier accepts your offer by a further communication to you, such as by emailing an acknowledgement or confirmation with a reference for the order.

This is, however, subject to any T&Cs incorporated into the contract by the supplier. It is almost inevitable that purchasing via the web will involve such terms. For example, there could be term saying that ‘even though we acknowledge your order, this won’t bring into existence a legal binding agreement between us. No contract will exist until your card has been charged’.

Or you could have a term saying that, ‘your order represents an offer which is accepted by us when we send an email confirmation to you that we have dispatched that product to you. That acceptance will be complete at the time we send the dispatch confirmation email’.

However, even if you can show that you have a binding contract, there is still a way that the supplier could try and set the contract aside by arguing that a ‘mistake’ has been made. In other words the contract was not a true reflection of the seller’s intentions. This may mean having to prove that no reasonable person could have believed the offer to be genuine.

Yet, in your case, the supplier has done something further – it has charged the price to your card (£3.95) and has actually sent the goods to you. Therefore, you would be in a strong position to claim your Kindle cases at the agreed price, even if it was incredibly low.

So, the position would be that assuming that their T&Cs mirror what has been said above, and they did email an order confirmation upon either charging your card or actually dispatching the goods to you, then you should resist sending the cases back. You would be saying that the price paid for the cases was the £3.95 p&p.

Please be aware that the guidance given is limited by the information I have and should not be treated as a substitute for taking full legal advice.

Have you ever ordered something online only for the retailer to pull the deal? Did they honour their mistake, or cancel your order altogether?


Call me a fool if you wish, but I would not try to profit out of a genuine mistake.

As they’ve charged your card and posted you the goods, maybe see if they’re willing to offer a goodwill gesture. And as a joke ask them to explain they’re lack of a QA process in the pricing department.

Oh, you could always charge them a small fortune for the p&p to return them. Well you will have to take them to a post office and time is money ….

This kind of reminds me of all the recent Tesco pricing gaffs, and they supposedly have a QA department, although trained baboons would probably make a better job of it..

Ah yes, I saw that in the paper. Nice of them to give out free pans to people. The difference with that case and Cheeky’s is that our Cheeky was already sent them in the mail.

Surely sending you the items and charging your card is what any reasonable person would take to be acceptance of the contract? What else is involved?

I can understand a company not sending out the goods because of a pricing error, but is there really any legal justification for taking the money and delivering the product, then saying it doesn’t count? Wouldn’t it mean that any retailer could claim that any completed purchase was a mistake and they want the goods back?

I know there’s a cooling-off period for customers, but for retailers too?

Particularly on Ebay you will regularly see sellers inflate the postage & packaging costs to make the purchase price of their item look lower than their competitors. Therefore I would argue that you can no longer realistically treat the two charges as separate items and that the actual value of the goods is the total charged, regardless of whether the amount has been assigned to the actual goods or the P&P on the receipt.

This is certainly the case and purchasers seem to avoid giving the companies a poor rating for fear of getting negative feedback.

I suspect that part of Amazon’s success is because many of the prices on their site include P&P.

My pet hate is Internet traders that don’t reveal the cost of P&P until a late stage in the transaction. It is a waste of my time.