South Africa

Can you insist to pay R55 for a laptop although the price is incorrect?

Many consumers argue that you should always pay the lower price if the correct price is higher than the price indicated.

There were quite a few disappointed consumers recently who thought they could pay R55 for a laptop on Makro’s website but found that their transactions did not go through because the retailer corrected the technical glitch that caused the incorrect price to be displayed.

Although the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) protects consumers’ rights regarding prices, most consumers are not fully aware of what the CPA provides for and when they can insist on paying the lower price.

According to the Consumer Goods Ombudsman, pricing error complaints are commonplace and have become more prevalent, especially now that everyone shops online. Most of these complaints are from consumers who say the price they had to pay was different from the displayed price, different from the advertised price, or just misleading.

Three sections of the CPA provide for what should happen if the price is wrong, and what your rights are in each case.

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Disclosing the price

Section 23 of the CPA deals with price disclosure and provides that retailers are not forced to display a price on goods used as a form of advertisement for the supplier of goods on the suppliers’ premises where the public does not ordinarily have access, such as a shop window. It is of course different for websites that have no shop windows.

However, retailers are not allowed to present goods without indicating what the price of a product is. They must indicate what the price is in writing in rands and cents and in a physical shop it can be stuck on or fastened to the product. It can be written, printed, or stamped or be affixed with a band, ticket, cover, label, packaging, roll or shelf.

For websites, it gets a bit more complicated. Natasha Christophers, senior associate at Tomlinson, Mnquni and James Attorneys, says in a complaint lodged with the ombudsman it was decided that the supplier is not bound to provide the consumer with an item at the incorrectly advertised price.

“It is an established principle in our law that by placing an item for sale at a certain price, a supplier is merely inviting offers from members of the public to buy it at that price. It is the consumer who makes an offer to the supplier to buy the item, and the supplier is not obliged to accept the offer. This principle applies to online transactions as well.”

If the supplier does not accept the consumer’s offer, does the consumer have any rights? How does the consumer know when the sale was concluded? Christophers says it all depends on those pesky “T’s and C’s” and therefore you must not be too quick to simply click “I Accept”.

ALSO READ: What to do when the price on the shelf is different to what they’re charging at the till

CPA sections do not always apply in electronic transactions

Although the CPA and the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (ECA) offer consumers some protection, certain sections of the CPA do not apply to electronic transactions if ECA applies to them.

“The ECA obliges online suppliers to make all terms and conditions applicable to the transaction readily available to consumers from the website where they transact. More particularly, section 43 of the ECA sets out a list of information that online suppliers must provide regarding goods “advertised online” and enables consumers to cancel transactions within 14 days when the supplier does not comply.”

Christophers says suppliers are entitled to state in their terms when an ecommerce transaction is completed, but this must be brought to the attention of the consumer. “If the supplier stipulated in its terms and conditions that the contract would be concluded only once the customer’s order is accepted by the supplier, the supplier would not be bound to deliver the item bought at the wrong price, but only if the supplier’s terms and conditions were brought to the attention of the consumer.”

However, if the supplier did not make such a stipulation, the default position is that the agreement, as well as any error in the price, becomes binding upon acceptance by the consumer, she says.

You must also be reasonably able to assume that the price is applicable to the goods. A catalogue, brochure, circular or similar publication offering products or services must indicate until when the price will be valid and it must be dated so that you can see if it is a current price.

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When an item has more than one price

A retailer is not allowed to expect you to pay a price higher than the indicated price or a price that is higher than the lowest price if more than one price is indicated. This means that if you get to the cashier and the price is higher than the one on the shelf, you can insist on paying the lower price, but within reason.

You cannot insist on paying R1.99 for a television set, which is obviously an error because nobody sells it for such a low price.

Therefore, when the price is obviously a mistake, the retailer is not bound by it, but only if the mistake is corrected and the shop took reasonable steps to inform you that the price was wrong.

Retailers are also not bound by a price displayed in relationship to any goods if an unauthorised person altered, defaced, covered, removed, or obscured the price.

However, this section does not apply to goods where the price is determined by public regulation, such as the petrol price.

When a price sticker is stuck over another one, the price on the top sticker is regarded as the correct price.

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When discount prices are advertised

When a supplier advertises prices that are lower than normal, the advertisement must indicate the usual price minus a discount that must be indicated in rands and cents or by percentage, unless a new, lower price is put on the item and then the difference between the highest and lowest price must be equal to the advertised price drop.

When this does not apply

Section 23 does not apply when someone has already given you a quote or you indicated that you do not want one. This section also does not apply to transactions that fall under section 43 of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act.

Misleading consumers is not allowed

Part of section 29 does not allow anyone to market goods or services in a way that is misleading, fraudulent, or deceptive about the price or compare it to another supplier’s price. This means that a retailer is not allowed to advertise something as ‘the cheapest in the country’ if that is not the case.

ALSO READ: Your rights when shopping for sales and promotions

Bait marketing is also not allowed

Section 30 deals with bait marketing and stipulates that suppliers are not allowed to advertise any goods or services at a specific price in a way that could mislead or deceive consumers in any way about the actual availability of the goods or services at that advertised price.

How often do we hear about consumers complaining that they went to a shop to buy goods at a special lower price, but everything was sold out? Unless the advertisement expressly states a limit for how much stock is available at that price, the supplier is not allowed to advertise it and not have stock. However, it could be difficult to prove that the supplier advertised stock he did not have.