Is a newsletter deal to sell a €395 book for €136 too good to be true?

Round Hall logo, via their siteBy way of update on this morning’s post, here is an extract from an email I received today from the Irish publishers Round Hall (the local imprint of Thomson Reuters) which raises very similar issues:

Oops! Correction of Offer Price for The Criminal Process

Correction

Our E-newsletter distributed on 30 November 2010 contained a mistake in relation to the 20% savings advertised for The Criminal Process by Thomas O’Malley.

The correct offer price, valid until the 15 December 2010, is in fact €316, and not €136 as advertised in our latest e-newsletter. The list price is €395. I’m sure that you will agree that this is still an excellent offer for this particular title!

Our sincere apologies for any confusion caused. (Our marketing department is doing suitable penance at the moment, and is also paying a little visit to the optician…)

Their terms and conditions provide

1. ACCEPTANCE OF ORDERS

1.1 Any quotation relating to goods or services supplied by Round Hall and any catalogue, mailshot or other advertisement of such goods or services shall constitute an invitation to treat only and not an offer to contract. Any Order shall be accepted entirely at the discretion of Round Hall and, if so accepted, will only be accepted upon these Conditions. …

1.3 An Order shall be deemed to have been accepted by Round Hall upon the earliest of:-

1.3.1 the acceptance by Round Hall of payment in cleared funds for the Goods;

1.3.2 despatch to Customer of a note advising that the Order has been recorded and will be fulfilled once the Goods to which the advice note relates are available;

1.3.3 delivery of the Goods to Customer or Customer’s nominee; …

7. PRICE AND PAYMENT

7.5 Rates, prices and discounts published in catalogues, lists, mailshots, advertisements and other documents issued by Round Hall are subject to variation at any time without prior notice.

It is interesting to speculate about what would have happened had I chosen to order Tom O’Malley’s The Criminal Process yesterday as soon as I had received the E-newsletter (I didn’t, but perhaps someone did). Plainly, according to Round Hall’s terms and conditions, they would argue that the newsletter would have constituted an invitation to treat, with my order constituting an offer. If I had paid by credit card, that would have constituted the payment in cleared funds; even if I had been able to defer payment to cheque, if Round Hall sent a confirmatory email, that would have constituted despatch of note recording my order. Either way, that would have constituted acceptance. And the question would have become whether section 7.5 would have allowed Round Hall to change the price at that stage or otherwise cancel the order. And, for what it’s worth, I don’t think it would. It’s plainly directed at correcting errors in – or making changes from time to time to – the prices in the catalogues, as the email did. But it doesn’t on its face go as far as allowing a retrospective change to a price in a completed contract. As Daithí points out in a comment to my previous post, and as I have discussed here, Amazon’s Conditions of Use are particularly clear on this issue:

Pricing
… 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. …

Round Hall’s clause is nowhere as clear, and like Aer Lingus, they would be well advised to look again at their terms and conditions!

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