Must a store sell me an item as advertised or on the price tag?

Have you ever seen a product offered for sale at a ridiculously low price? If this is clearly a mistake, can you take advantage of it?

The short answer is no for displayed prices, but it’s less clear for advertised prices. The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) deals with “pricing errors”.

Section 23 of the CPA (dealing with displayed prices )provides that ‘a retailer must not display any goods for sale without displaying to the consumer a price in relation to those goods’ and ‘a supplier must not require a consumer to pay a price for any goods higher than the displayed price for those goods.’ The supplier is, however protected, as the section provides a rider: If a price as displayed contains an inadvertent and obvious error, the supplier is not bound by it after correcting the error in the displayed price and taking reasonable steps in the circumstances to inform consumers to whom the erroneous price may have been displayed of the error and the correct price.

Section 30 (that deals with advertised prices) says this: “A supplier must not advertise any particular goods or services as being available at a specified price in a manner that may result in consumers being misled or deceived (about) the actual availability of those goods or services from that supplier, at that advertised price.

“If a supplier advertises goods as being available at a specified price, and the advertisement expressly states a limitation in respect of the availability of those goods, the supplier must make those goods or services available at that price, to the extent of the expressed limits.”

If the supplier runs out if stock, it can source elsewhere the same or equivalent goods of the kind advertised within a reasonable time, in a reasonable quantity, and at the advertised price.

This section does not specify how errors are to be dealt with, nor what the position is if a limit was not placed on the numbers available.

The Consumer Tribunal or the courts will in time remove the confusion. I’m sure that a supplier will be protected if the price is an “inadvertent and obvious error”.

Besides, on a practical level, even if the consumer is entitled to pay the “error” price and the supplier bears the risk and costs associated with errors, which consumer will want to spend time and effort (and perhaps legal fees) to take advantage of the mistake?

My advice to suppliers: in your shop, put up a disclaimer dealing with “inadvertent and obvious errors” and in advertisements, limit the number of items available and the duration of the offer. Also, make sure the price in the ad is correct and not stupidly low.

Bottom line: Although the CPA protects consumers and ensures that they know the total price that they are to be charged for the goods, and that the price is fair, it does not entitle consumers to an unfair price benefit or to take advantage of the supplier.

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