Supermarket website mistakenly lists premium whisky for £2.50 – do their inconsistent terms and conditions apply?

From today’s Guardian:

Morrisons mistakenly lists £2.50 whisky

The retailer identified the pricing error on its website before any bottles were sold

Mark Twain reputedly said: “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whisky is barely enough.”

Online shoppers at the supermarket Morrisons came close to testing his theory when the retailer accidentally priced bottles of a Scotch whisky at just £2.50, a 93% discount from its usual price of £36. …

Whisky lovers piled in, posting their delight on social media, only to discover their big orders had been thwarted at the last minute.

The pricing error was identified by Morrisons, and due to minimum unit pricing legislation making the charge per bottle illegal, the retailer cancelled all orders before they were actioned. …

Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve on MorrisonsAs the image (left) from Morrisons’ current website implies, someone must have mistakenly entered £2.50 instead of the intended £25.00. But Morrisons were able to play the get-out-of-jail-free card of Scotland’s minimum unit pricing legislation (in force since 2018) prevented the offer from taking effect. Ireland has similar legislation (in force since the beginning of this year). However, if they could not have played that card, would they have been bound to sell the whisky for £2.50? This kind of typo is not uncommon, leading to under-priced offers of goods, services, holidays, and so on. As I have said several times on this blog, when someone seeks to accept such offers, various questions arise:
(1) is there a contract; in particular, do offer and acceptance correspond?
(2) if so, is it affected by the mistake?
(3) if not, (a) do its terms permit it to be cancelled; and (b) if so, are such terms fair?
(4) have any additional protections and cooling-off periods been complied with? and
(5) if there are any claims, what are the available remedies?
These issues are not entirely straightforward (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

If there were here a corresponding offer and acceptance not vitiated by mistake, the question would arise whether terms and conditions apply. Morrisons’ website Terms of Use provides:

Where product information is incorrect due to an error or circumstances beyond our control, we reserve the right not to accept your order for the affected products, or if your order has already been accepted, not to supply the affected products to you. We will notify you if this is the case and will not charge you for the product.

And the website’s Terms and Conditions of Sale adds:

7. Prices and Product Information

7.4 We stock a large number of products and it is always possible that, despite our best efforts, some of the products listed may be incorrectly priced. If a product’s correct price is less than our stated price, we will charge the lower amount. If a product’s correct price is higher than our stated price, we will notify you when we deliver that product to you and you can choose whether you want to accept or reject the relevant product. If you reject the product we will not charge you for it and will return it at our own cost. If you accept it, we will charge the correct price.

On the one hand, the general terms provide that “where product information is incorrect due to an error” Morrisons will refuse the offer or cancel the sale. On the other hand, the more detailed terms and conditions provide that, if, as here, a product’s correct price is higher than their stated price, they will notify the customer when they deliver that product, and the customer can choose whether “to accept or reject the relevant product”. These are inconsistent provisions. By the first, Morrisons may choose to cancel; by the second, they afford this choice to their customers. The doctrine of interpretation contra proferentem, by which words in contracts are interpreted strictly against the interests of those who drafted them, may only be relevant “in a case of genuine ambiguity or real doubt as to the meaning of the words used” (eg, Burnett v International Insurance Company of Hanover Ltd (Scotland) [2021] UKSC 12 (23 April 2021) [29] (Lord Hamblen)), but the inconsistency here plainly meets that standard; and, resolving it against the interest of the drafter, Morrisons, the choice to accept or reject the whisky would be for the customers, rather than for Morrisons. Of course, the customers would have to pay full price, but at least this way they would get their whisky if they wanted it. In any event, Morrisons were lucky that they were able to to play the get-out-of-jail-free card of Scotland’s minimum unit pricing legislation, so this problem with the inconsistency of their terms and conditions did not arise.