Moral guidance

The fact I am posting this probably says something about me :-) I am interested in people's views.

I ordered some goods on-line from a large company (does the fact that it is a large "faceless" company actually make a difference?). I ordered several things at once, and one item three times. It was on the web site at £20 which is actually an "offer", normally more.

The total order was around £90 and so I was puzzled when my card only appeared to be charged around £30. The goods arrived, along with a detailed receipt. Everything was there, and this particular item was listed as 50p each.

My guess is some sort of mistake... but...

I checked the terms and conditions, and they state quite categorically that the price shown on the web site and order form (i.e. the £20 price) is for guidance only and that the actual "price" is what they charge when they send the goods (i.e. the 50p price). So under their terms the price is indeed only 50p.

In fact, they even state that they have a temporary issue showing unit prices wrongly and they state categorically that the selling prices are correct. They say this in their terms.

So I have to assume the 50p charge is correct, it says so in the terms that they wrote. It is an excellent deal for the goods in question. So much so, I have ordered 3 more for tomorrow to see what happens.

Am I wrong to accept the 50p price they are charging, even though they state categorically that they are correct in their terms?

Should I tell them?

Should I not try and buy more at the low price?

Should I tell my friends the details so they can benefit?

Yes, I am sure a lot of people would not ponder the right or wrong of this situation for a moment.


It is clearly a system issue, or a genuine (bloody good) offer, as today I was charged 12p each.

I have asked them on twitter if I should tell them if charged a much lower price than the web site, and they said I do not need to.

I'm not going to take the piss. I'll see what I get charged next time I want to order some.


  1. Should I tell them? Yes

    Should I not try and buy more? Only if you do so at £20 each

    Should I tell my friends the details so they can benefit? Difficult one that......

    1. Your second point may be tricky - when I order they are £20. But if they only actually charge my card for them at 50p - I don't really have a means to make them take the extra money!

  2. Legally speaking I believe that in the case of gross administrative error (for example where a software bug causes a £20 item to be sold for £0.50) the retailer would potentially be able to argue that no contract exists because they clearly did not intend to create legal relations with the nonsense price, and therefore that the goods are still their property. In practice of course nobody (and especially not a large retailer) would dream of trying this; they'll just let it go.

    Morally you should tell them about their error, and not take further advantage of the bug.

    And if it were me I think I'd just chuckle and move on. I'd keep the goods you have, and the ones that come tomorrow, and leave it at that.

    I once came across a similar - in fact arguably more serious - cockup by an online retailer whereby if you purchased goods through their website using one of these quidco type affiliate commission businesses the retailer in question would pay the 2.5% commission over to the affiliate company even if the goods were never delivered (for example because you cancelled the order, or your card was declined). The (genuine) order in question was worth about £20k so the payout was considerable, but since I was using an affiliate service that paid the referral money to a charity not to me personally I decided just to say nothing :-)

    1. One of the issues is that there are silly offers from time to time. I doubt it in this case, but retail can have really good prices. You would, indeed, expect such an offer to be clear on the web site, but can I say I know it is definitely a mistake? if so, at what price would I just think it is as a good deal - what if the site had said "offer, 50p", should I have assumed that a mistake - what of "offer, £10"?

      I do wonder if I do tell them, but they don't fix it, or don't fix it for some time, is that then fair game to keep buying at the good price? I'll have "done my duty and reported it" - not fixing it is sort of accepting that they are prepared to sell for the low price.

    2. Also, obviously, the fact I think it is a mistake is a factor. Had it been £19.50 not £20, I would have assumed it was a different price on the day they shipped - which is the whole point they make in their terms that the web site is guidance and the price can vary.

      Yes, 50p seems like a mistake, but in deciding that, surely their reassurance in their terms that "the selling price is correct" must be allowed to re-assure me that it cannot be a mistake...

      It is an interesting one.

    3. Further pondering - I am not sure one could call it a "mistake". A mistake in a price would be charging one thing where they "should have charged" another. Obviously what they "should charge" is the "price". But their terms define the price by the outcome - they define the price as what they did charge. As such what they charge can never fail to actually be "the price" and hence never "a mistake". :-)

    4. The argument that no contract exists is how many/most retailers get around when the price on the site is much lower than actual and they cancel an order before they ship it.
      However, by retailers taking funds and dispatching goods they have accepted your offer price and agreed to enter into a contract of sale so there is no comeback for them if they realise after the fact that they have made a mistake.
      As for whether it is ok to keep exploiting the 50p each price, I guess that comes down to the actual value of the item (is it possible that it was incorrectly marked up to £20 in the same what sites often incorrectly price items much lower) and whether you actually need them.
      I.e. if you need another 3 and would be happy paring £20 each for the extra 3 then it is acceptable to order more and be prepared to pay full price, but if you are only buying them to exploit the 50p pricetag and have no use for them, then leave it and move on

    5. Good point. Without saying what the item is (yet), I don't "need" the items, but do make use of them on a regular basis, so buying three more now is fine and I am more than happy to pay £20 - it is good value for the item. So if my order tomorrow is charged at the £20 I will be quite happy.

      This will, however, allow me to work out if this was a one-off, or if it is a systematic issue.

      I think, if the latter, I'll go to the bother of telling them of the problem, as that is the right thing to do.

      If a one-off, I think I'll just consider myself lucky.

  3. One way to think about it is what you would want your customers to do if the mistake was on the AAISP site (and what you would do when you found out).

    1. Indeed, and a point I have already been considering.

      We do not have terms that define the price as "what we charged", for example, thus making a mistaken charge actually the price, and so the right price by definition.

      We also don't have a clause that web site prices are only guidance and price can change on the day we ship - thus making it acceptable and expected to be charged a different price.

      So I don't think this scenario could happen. In our case we would sell something for say £20, and invoice it for £20. If we happen to DD only 50p, the account would show £19.50 still due, and we would DD that to correct our mistake. If we make a mistake invoicing, we will stick by it for something of this sort of level - obviously if we are talking much bigger sums, we are with rights to correct the mistake I believe, with our terms.

      In this instance, the supplier has not make a mistake invoicing - they invoice the price they charged, which is defined as "the price". The charged what the invoice said, so that is not a mistake either. Did they charge what they wanted to - probably not - but no real way to tell as (a) the price on the web site is guidance only and could change, and (b) the terms say the price is correct.

  4. I recently ordered a ~300 pound computer from a major online I.T. retailer (the one who is also in the telco business)...

    Two turned up, both from I.T. Wholesalers.

    I called the retail company - they had record of only one order and only one order placed with their wholesaler..

    I called the carrier who delivered the mystery parcel to discover the sender of the computer. Called the sender (another I.T. wholesale company that the retailer also has dealings with) who confirmed that the retailer had placed the order and the invoice would be going to the retailer (and not invoicing me as a customer).

    Called the retailer again - who didn't have any record of this order with the "other" wholesaler.. I spent at least an hour trying to get someone to say that they want to take the machine back.
    I tried - and failed. So we get a free machine.

    The wholesaler doesn't care as they are very likely to get their invoice paid by the retailer.
    The retailer doesn't seem to care as they don't think they've placed this duplicate order across two of their wholesalers.

    I feel bad keeping the machine but I really did try my best to get someone to take it back and nullify whatever monies are due!

    1. I was going to quote http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1971/30/section/1/enacted but revoked by http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2000/2334/regulation/22/made#regulation-22-2 so I assume replaced by EU based rules. Basically you get to keep unsolicited goods as legally yours.

  5. My approach is usually to tell people once that they've made a mistake in my favour, and then not to pursue it any further if they don't seem bothered. But it does depend who the supplier is, and if I have a vague feeling that they've been stitching me up for years then I might be less inclined to help them out. I don't make as much effort as '1' above, though I did keep about a grands-worth of soldering iron in a box for about 8 years in case the supplier ever came back for it.

    Funny enough A&A once failed to take a direct debit (years ago) and I told them (once) and they said we didn't own them anything so I left it at that.

    The unpaid invoice lurked in Sage for years... Don't worry Adrian, it wasn't very much IIRC.

    1. We would be happy to try and reconcile. What has happened very very rarely is we have a DD bit we don't see the bounce notification for some reason. That has happened a couple of times and been picked up at the end of the year and tracked down. BACS is pretty good but I have seen things that are clearly manually entered on notices from banks via BACS so there can very rarely be bank errors in your or our favour :-)

  6. There's clearly a discrepancy or something wrong, isn't there? I think you'd be dishonest to try and actively take further advantage of it now that it's come to light. In return I'd expect the company to hold its hands up and not get upset about the goods that have already shipped, fix the problem and get on with life. I think your seeking opinions suggests that you know that too but that you want to exploit it further and are hoping to read a reply which allows you to deal with your moral misgivings. If you wanted an actual answer - which you might not like - you could have asked the company instead of asking your readers.

  7. Years ago I brought some socks from Tesco and they were priced at the checkout differently to the shelf price so I got "double difference back" (a price guarantee they no longer offer). I brought this up at the clothing desk and got my refund... 3 days later purchased some more and same issue: so money back (making 3 pairs of socks about 50p) and said I had this issue 3 days and was surprised it wasn't sorted.. Week later - guess what : cheap socks again. Cashier said they were well aware but management wouldn't correct the prices.

    To me: I notified them of the pricing mistake, gave them reasonable time to correct the issue (3 days to print a new shelf edge label) so I was "morally okay" after that point.

    Also managed to get a duplex colour laser printer for £25 under the same "double the difference" deal (came up as £175 on checkout, shelf price was £125 so got it for 125 and 50*2 : shame it was the time before eBay...)

  8. I find that pointing out difference in errors between pricing and charging rarely has any effect... at least with one of the businesses I trade with.

    For example, their supplier (who we shall call E.T.) does not charge them for a migration out to another supplier but they do charge if a service is cancelled.

    They have one price for cancellation which is advertised and we are happy to pay their advertised price when a service is 'cancelled' as per definition of the term 'cancelled' - this supplier does not charge for migrations out just as their supplier does not charge them.

    It does not stop this supplier from invoicing us, and taking payment, for a cancellation when this is not the service which was ordered nor was it the service that was actually delivered by their supplier.

    Of course, the fact that this is a migration rather than a cancellation is *known* at the time the invoice is generated, and more importantly, when payment is taken - therefore, this supplier has it within their power to not issue an incorrect invoice, not take payment for said incorrect invoice and not to waste my time having to check their invoices for accuracy.

    We have pointed out this error to them previously and to their credit, the payment was refunded in full, however, my question is this: "If they continue to make the same mistake and I have to dedicate my valuable time to continually resolving this mistake by raising a dispute over the charge, do you think it is fair for me to invoice this supplier for my time as per your own £5 administrative charge made to customers for not using the correct payment reference on bank payments ?"

    To paraphrase your own words, "I have done my duty and reported it" - not fixing it is sort of accepting that they are prepared to continue invoicing and charging the incorrect higher price, so by your logic, I can and should invoice them for continuing to waste my time ?

    1. Good point - let me know if this is us you are talking about!

    2. Indeed I am.


      I quote from the e-mail sent to us on 9th June:

      "You are beyond the minimum term and so no early termination charges apply.
      A cease fee of £30.00 will be charged.
      When the service is ceased, any credit due will be issued.

      The reason for the cease is given as:

      Migration to another LLU"

      The contents of this e-mail are directly contradicted by your own T&Cs:

      "Our flexible units tariffs have a 1 month term for ADSL and 12 month term for FTTC/FTTP lines. There is also a cease charge of £30 if ceasing rather than migrating away. The early termination charge is £10 pcm for ADSL and £20 pcm for FTTC/FTTP for the remaining period."

      It is all very much a mess and one which I have tried to get cleared up before but with little success.

    3. I will investigate that. Obviously I am happy to stick by what the terms say and you should not have inconvenience.

  9. You ordered some goods online from "a large company" but large companies have an unfortunate habit of offloading their problems onto others. As an aside, A&A seem to be on the receiving end of this quite often.
    There was a famous case of this behaviour in 2014 (search for "Amazon 1 penny error") that, IIRC, caused major financial trouble for a number of their suppliers.
    Is the moral position affected by the vulnerability of the party taking the hit? Or by our opinion of the ethics of any of the parties?

    1. A point I was wondering in my post at the start - does "large company" make a difference. I note someone else said it mattered if he felt the company had, in the past, managed to stitch him up a bit, as that made it fair game. It is perhaps not quite a clear cut.

      Anyway, I have now asked them if they want to know about charges being way off - I'll see what they say.

    2. I have found why - migrate to LLU is not something that is normal "migrate" under OFCOM rules, in that we cannot stop it. The broadband ceases because the PSTN is migrated so we treat as a cease for the purpose of notices. However, we need to have an edge case for this that treats it as a migrate for billing purposes! I'll have to code that exception.


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