A £1,198 sofa on sale at £98? I’ll take two! Or a £450 Nokia Lumia 800 smartphone for £120 – a steal at a quarter of the price. And what about a £500 laptop for £40? Sold.
This is indeed fantasy shopping but – for a few brief hours – it was actually a reality for customers buying goods at Next, Argos and John Lewis respectively. Pricing howlers by staff meant these goods were on offer at ridiculously low prices – and shoppers understandably swooped.
Their delight turned to dismay, though, when the stores realised they’d boobed and refused to sell the items at the advertised price. In some of the cases above, a gesture of goodwill – up to £25 – was made in the absence of being able to give shoppers what they wanted.
But many disappointed customers were having none of it and, in each case, went online to shout about it: they knew their rights, the store had a legal duty to honour the deal, and what an outrage it was that they wouldn’t.
Yet their rage was ill-founded: they had no right to buy it at comedy prices. Despite these high-profile incidents – and countless others – many consumers still believe they have the right to buy an item if it’s been advertised at a given price, no matter if it’s clearly a spectacular slip-up.
Whose fault is this? Well, I’d argue it’s an unusual case of those setting a good example ruining it for everyone else.
While some shops rely on the barest of legal minimums to keep customers happy, others bend over backwards to treat us like kings. And while this might sound marvellous, it’s ended up muddying the waters for many shoppers who’ve now come to expect consumer rights they don’t actually have.
To be fair, layers of legislation have also made it harder to separate fact from fiction. Last year ushered in the overarching Consumer Rights Act, but this only applies to goods and services bought since 1 Oct 2015. Purchases before this must instead largely rely on the Sale of Goods Act and Supply of Services Act.
We’ve full info on all the consumer rights you really DO have, but here are five of the biggest types of mistakes shoppers make…
- ‘The shop price label said £1.99 instead of £199. Great! The shop must let me buy it at that price.’
‘Fraid not. A store doesn’t have to sell its goods to you if it’s made a howler of a pricing mistake. If you spot an item wrongly priced on the shelf, or it pops up at a crazy price when scanning at the till, shop staff have no legal obligation to honour it. You can be asked to pay the proper price or it can refuse to serve you.
- ‘My oven’s stopped working after barely three months. It’s clearly faulty, so I’ll get an immediate refund.’
Only if your new item breaks down within 30 DAYS are you entitled to a full refund. If it starts to fall apart between one and six months after you buy it, the shop must be allowed to repair or replace it first. Only if it keeps going wrong after that can you get a full refund (or part refund if you do manage to get some use out of it).
- ‘I’ve decided I don’t actually need the kitchen radio I bought on the high street. I’ll pop back in for a refund.’
This is one of the most commonly made mistakes – shops DON’T actually have to take your goods back, just because you’ve changed your mind. They must ONLY accept them when they’re faulty (the waters have been muddied thanks to brilliant behaviour by retailers that go beyond the rules and do let you take goods back on a whim).
- ‘I’m posting back new clothes as they don’t fit me very well. Thankfully I ordered online, so the firm has to pay the cost of return post and packaging.’
You’ve only a right to free return delivery if your items are faulty. Just changed your mind? You’ll usually have to stump up the cost of mailing it back. However, do double-check: when you originally order goods, rules on who pays for return posting should be clear, eg, spelled out in T&Cs. If not, they could have to refund your postage costs. Some retailers, often clothes chains, happily pay postage for return items. Here’s more on all your extra protection buying online.
- ‘I reserved a toy online and paid for it when I picked it up in store. I’ve now changed my mind as it’s not age-appropriate and don’t want it – I can simply return it and get my money back.’
The tricky bit here is you’re shopping both online AND in store. There’s no problem if you pay online and then collect from a shop, because your web payment automatically gives you a right to return your purchase simply if you change your mind. But if you only reserve it online and pay for it when you pick it up, most retailers will treat it differently and deem that you bought in the shop instead. This means it’ll only let you return the item if it’s faulty. However, again, some stores will go beyond this and let you return it regardless, so double-check.