A salutary tale of a mistaken price

Best Buy logo, via their site.Via ContractsProf, I learn that US discount retailer Best Buy will not honour a $9.99 big-screen TV deal which it had offered for sale on its website, because the terms on the site reserved its right to revoke offers or correct errors even if a credit card has already been charged. This is just the latest example of a common phenomenon; the biggest Irish example was last year’s Aer Lingus mistakenly priced flights fiasco; and they are in good company: it has happened to Amazon (2003); Argos (1999 and 2005); Avon (2004); Buy.com (1998); Dell (several times: 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008twice); Hoover (1992); Kodak (2002); Thai Airways (2003), Sony products in France (2004), and (hat tip Legal Eagle in the comments) JB Hi-Fi in Australia (2009).

Best Buy protected themselves against such errors by providing for them in their Conditions of Use:

Errors on Our Site
… Errors will be corrected where discovered, and Best Buy reserves the right to revoke any stated offer and to correct any errors, inaccuracies or omissions including after an order has been submitted and whether or not the order has been confirmed and your credit card charged. If your credit card has already been charged for the purchase and your order is cancelled, Best Buy will issue a credit to your credit card account in the amount of the charge. …

Amazon’s Conditions of Use are similarly clear:

… Despite our best efforts, a small number of the items in our catalog may be mispriced. If an item’s correct price is higher than our stated price, we will, at our discretion, either contact you for instructions before shipping or cancel your order and notify you of such cancellation.

Please note that this policy applies only to products sold and shipped by Amazon. Your purchases from third-party sellers using Marketplace Payments by Amazon are charged at the time you place your order, and third-party sellers may follow different policies in the event of a mispriced item. …

Nevertheless, the wonder is not that it happens at all, but that it happens so infrequently. In any event, the legal principles are well settled; and I suspect that online retailers will increasingly include and rely on similar terms. However, the Aer Lingus General Conditions of Carriage do not seem to have been updated since October 2004 – and so far as I can see, they do not contain a similar clause. Perhaps Aer Lingus haven’t learned their lesson yet?

Update: another spectacular example from The Telegraph:

Japanese trader makes £22 billion mistake

A trader working in the Japanese branch of the Swiss bank UBS mistakenly ordered £22 billion of bonds while trying to buy just £220,000.

The trader, who has not been named, was executing a trade in bonds … when he made what is commonly called a “fat finger” mistake. A spokesman for UBS said the mistake was a computer, rather than a human, error. …