The fantasy of free money spewing out of cash machines or online shopping offers that promise unlimited amounts of free goods do occasionally turn into reality. The imposition of computer programmes on virtually every facet of our lives means that the opportunity for glitches to create such cheerful errors is abundant.
Although these occurrences are undoubtedly a pleasant surprise at the time, the old saying that it’s too good to be true ought to spring to mind pretty quickly. Consumers are generally well protected from businesses that try to exploit them but it doesn’t mean that businesses have no protection when it comes to erroneous generosity on their part; their terms of business play an important role in their protection.
Consumer rights are designed to protect those with little bargaining power from large organisations; they are not designed to enable consumers to exploit errant retailers.
Free Shopping at ASDA
The most recent example of suspiciously excessive generosity from a supermarket chain came in the form of an ASDA discount offer. ASDA is renowned for its highly competitive pricing and its guarantees to beat competitors’ pricing on popular items but free shopping is a step too far even for the Wal-Mart owned supermarket.
Hundreds of savvy shoppers managed to exploit an online discount coupon glitch in the Autumn of 2013 but it turned out that Christmas had not in fact come early. A £50 discount code enabled shoppers to obtain the price reduction even if they only spent 1p over £50 leaving only the delivery charge to pay. For those willing to collect their shopping in store, this meant virtually free shopping.
One shopper from Leeds told the BBC that he had managed to buy 2.5 litres of vodka and a selection of mixers virtually for free but the supermarket cancelled the order by text message before he had a chance to collect it the following day.
How Could ASDA Cancel the Discounted Orders?
Although many consumers may have cheered the Robin Hood like properties of ASDA’s rogue discount vouchers, ASDA had good grounds to cancel them. Following the incident, ASDA stated that it reserved the right to withdraw or cancel any of its e-vouchers at any time in its terms and conditions.
In these circumstances some consumers might wonder whether those terms should be enforceable given that they were simply taking advantage of a discount offered by the supermarket. Typically consumers are protected from companies that make misleading discount offers through the Advertising Code which is enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority and the Office of Fair Trading.
In this case any claim against ASDA would likely be unsuccessful however as the company was not attempting to mislead consumers and it seems likely many of the consumers knew they were exploiting a computer glitch at the time they made their purchases.
For more information or advice about your rights as a consumer or your responsibilities as a business selling to consumers contact Peter Gourri today by email PGourri@rollingsons.co.uk or telephone 0207 611 4848.