Brown Thomas has run into difficulty with some of its online shoppers after cancelling orders for a designer brand of trainers it had priced at just €10 instead of the normal retail price of €150 or more for several hours on Wednesday morning.
Keen-eyed bargain hunters were quick to snap up the heavily discounted, ethically made Veja trainers and were more than happy to have the €10 cost debited from their accounts. They also received confirmation of the orders.
However, the supporters of the ethical brand were less than pleased when the high-end retailer subsequently cancelled all the orders, blaming a “pricing error”.
In a statement posted to social media, Brown Thomas said that the “orders sold at an incorrect price will be cancelled as per our terms and conditions. We are investigating this technical issue and apologise for any inconvenience.”
In a subsequent statement issued to The Irish Times, the retailer said it was still working to resolve the technical issues and would be offering impacted customers a 20 per cent discount on their next online purchase.
The apology did not wash with many shoppers who were convinced they had bagged a bargain.
“The money has already been deducted from my debit card. My order must be processed today,” one customer demanded.
“Bad form. Should honour it,” said another.
“These orders should all be honoured by Brown Thomas, not the customers fault they had a “pricing” error. Brand reputation & customer satisfaction should be more important to a company like Brown Thomas,” suggested a third.
“Surely terms and conditions can’t override statutory rights,” wondered another person.
The short answer to that question is no. While people may talk about statutory rights and feel aggrieved at having the bargain pulled from their grasp at the last minute, the law would appear to be on the side of Brown Thomas.
According to long-standing consumer legislation, when a retailer advertises a product or service for sale, the consumer is given “an invitation to treat”. That means the consumer is invited to make an offer to buy the product in question.
Until money changes hands, no legally binding contract is in place.
However, in this case the offer was accepted, a fact which left many people thinking a binding contract had been formed.
According to Irish consumer groups, the retailer has a get-out clause. If there is “a genuine mistake on the part of the trader to display the correct price”, they can claim that there is a defect in consent and the contract may be set aside, especially if the consumer should reasonably have known that the price displayed was the result of an error.
A rogue price may be “an obvious, rare mistake, quickly acknowledged and rectified” so the consumer “may not be entitled to benefit from the error”.
In a statement issued on Wednesday afternoon, Brown Thomas said it had “experienced a technical error on our website which resulted in a large number of unavailable items being offered for sale, at incorrect prices. This issue is now rectified. We deeply regret this situation and apologise to all affected customers.”
It said the retailer was still “working to identify all incorrect orders so that refunds can be processed as quickly as possible. Those customers impacted will also be offered compensation in the form of a 20 per cent discount off their next purchase online with Brown Thomas.”