If an offer looks too good to be true, it probably is

VikingDirectThe image on the left is based on screen grabs taken by @jimboireland and @WayneDoyle___ (click through for a bigger size). It shows a ‘samsung 51″ series 4 3D plasma tv’ for sale on a retail website for “€6.49 plus VAT” (I’ve zoomed in on the price, just to make the point). This offer looked like it was too good to be true; and that’s exactly what it was – too good to be true. The €6.49 was a typo for €649. I have blogged about similar mistakes on the part of United Airlines, Aer Lingus, Dell, Best Buy, Arnotts, and Round Hall. This time, it was VikingDirect.ie – and, as the Irish Times and The Daily Edge are reporting, they have apologised to their customers, but are not going to honour the sale of the televisions at 1% of its retail price.

The customers will probably argue that they had contracts with the retailer, which the retailer must honour by selling the tvs at the knock-down prices. However, these contracts are subject to the website terms and conditions, section 5 of which details how the relevant contract is made: the customer’s order is an offer to purchase the goods on Viking’s conditions; and the offer is accepted, and the contract is made, when Viking send the customer an e-mail acknowledging the order. This means that the advertisement on the website is not part of the contract at all (in the jargon, it is simply an “invitation to treat”, an invitation by Viking to customers to make offers to purchase). Furthermore, section 15 of those terms and conditions provides for a “right to cancel or vary” on the part of Viking, as follows:

If … our web site and/or ordering web pages contained any error, including in relation to the description or price of any of the goods … we shall be entitled to cancel the contract as a whole or in respect of those goods, in which case we will offer you a full refund, …

As the Viking statement on the issue (and I’m relying here on the media reports, as I can’t find the statement on the VIking website) referred to this clause, and continued

We are in the process of contacting those customers who placed an order for the wrongly priced television to advise them of the misprice and their impending refund. We would like to apologise to our customers for any inconvenience this has caused.

Aggrieved customers might argue that section 15 is an unfair term, for the purposes of the European Communities (Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts) Regulations, 1995 (SI No 27 of 1995), but I don’t think that’s a particularly strong point. In the end, therefore, the fact that Viking Direct can avoid having to sell samsung 51″ series 4 3D plasma tvs for the advertised price of €6.49 plus VAT is a pretty straightforward piece of contract law; and the moral is twofold:

  • terms and conditions will apply (so vendors should ensure that the terms and conditions of their websites cover such eventualities; and consumers should be aware of such terms and conditions); and
  • if the offer is too good to be true, it probably is.

Nevertheless, if I were one of the customers, I think I’d rather have the television than the apology.