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Is online version of store obligated to sell?
Is online version of store obligated to sell?

 5:09 pm on Jul 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

I (meaning my small company) recently placed an order to purchase a computer from a well know store via their website for an online only promotional price. I completed the checkout process and received a confirmation email indicating the product was backordered and was given a pending date of delivery. The purchase price was not charged to my card as they do that when the product is set to deliver. On the date I was expecting the delivery I went online only to find the delivery date had been changed to "Pending" without informing me of the change. I waited a week while the order continued to list as pending and still no contact from the company. I contacted customer service today and was told the item is either discontinued or will not be filled. I went to the local physical store and they have the product on the shelf at the regular price.

With that background, is this company obligated to sell this computer at their posted online sale price if the order was placed at the time of the sale and they do have the product? I believe we have a contract whereby I offered to buy and they accepted. futhermore, rather than indicate a product was out of stock, they backordered it and put it in pending status giving the impression they were intending to fill this order and they have the product to do so. The computer is exactly the same computer as the one on the shelf.

Any thoughts or suggestions?



 5:43 pm on Jul 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

I think no since they never accepted your payment.


 5:56 pm on Jul 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

The computer is exactly the same computer as the one on the shelf.

Not exactly... The computer on the shelf is intended for offline sale. There may be a limited number of computers available for online sale, and that number was already exceeded. It's a gray area.

The bad thing I see is that the company never notified you of the delivery date change.


 6:14 pm on Jul 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

Unless the online store and the B&M store are two different corporate entities, I would push them to honor the price at the local store.

The minute you placed the order and they accepted the order IMO there's a contract to fulfill that order at the price offered if they still have the product in stock.

That's the point I'd make and I'd email them ASAP telling them you know they have it in stock at the store and you expect them to honor the sales price and arrange for you to pick it up at that price ASAP.

The worst they can do is say NO, and then you file a formal complaint with the state AG's Office of Consumer Protection.


 6:21 pm on Jul 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

I think the key point here is the online only promotional price. This price is ONLY available when ordering online (as the people in the store will most likely tell you if you try to demand it). If you look at the fine print, it will most likely mention limited time/inventory for the offer.

You can try complaining that they misled you to believe that the order would actually be shipped someday, preventing you from purchasing elsewhere. But I don't know how far you will get with the complaint.


 6:31 pm on Jul 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

If no money exchanged hands then there is no point to arguing IMHO. They don't have something to sell - may look bad for them but there is no obligation or wrongdoing here.


 6:40 pm on Jul 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

as the people in the store will most likely tell you if you try to demand it

That's why I suggested complaining to the online store to arrange a pickup for that price at the real store.

If no money exchanged hands then there is no point to arguing IMHO.

You never know until you try and many companies would prefer to solve the customer's problem instead of alienating the customer.

I've gotten satisfaction from complaining about poor customer service before but obviously it's possible they'll just quote "I'm sorry, that was an online sale only" and I'd reply "I'm sorry, I'm now someone else's customer if you can't make it right"

See how badly they want to keep you as a customer.

If they don't want you as a customer, then take your business elsewhere to someone that might value you as a customer.

Some stores will honor the prices of other stores just to get your business and that's worth a shot too, but it's usually online vs online or offline vs offline only as offline stores rarely honor an online store price.

Most people don't even try to negotiate, if you can find a store with a live salesperson you may actually be able to barter, it never hurts to ask if the price posted is "their best price".

I've gotten big ticket electronics below the listed price (TV, computer, entire new set of kitchen appliances for a major discount PLUS the posted rebate) and once even negotiated with a tire store to throw in their road hazard insurance for free if I bought the more expensive tires.

Work the system as stores, online or offline, usually want your money more than they want you walking out the door giving it to someone else and you never know until you try.

Not to mention the fact they don't want people complaining about their service unless they simply don't care.

Don't forget, request a manager, never stop at the front line flunky.


 12:43 am on Jul 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

If they could not have known it was going to be discontinued prior to filling the order, then they are not obligated.


 6:36 am on Jul 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

This sounds like a come-on to me.

Here's just one reference to the Best Buy "website" bait-and-switch scheme that was operating a few years ago (2007):

Hartford (CT) - The Connecticut Attorney General is taking aim at Best Buy's in-store website. A recently initiated investigation is looking into allegations that prices shown on in-store computers are higher than on the actual store website.

Best Buy in-store website under investigation [tgdaily.com]

There are more detailed accounts of their scheme to be found doing some further searches, well worth finding and taking a good look at.


 6:40 pm on Jul 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

bait-and-switch scheme

I am not sure how an investigation on that level accomplishes or proves anything. Taxes, shipping costs, discontinued items and all kind of things can shift the price of a product a lot even among stores of the same company.

If the price or service isn't right for one he can always buy someplace else.

Now if you do place an order that's a different matter because there is at least one agreement in place, but the order was never complete because they never charged the OP.


 3:25 am on Jul 18, 2010 (gmt 0)

There are a lot of reasons why in-store price and online price aren't always the same with large retailers. Overhead costs are one reason - it's infinitely more expensive to run a physical store than an online store, so sometimes the price is higher.

There are also regional considerations. Lets say all of the company's merchandise for the entire nation enters the country through the port of Los Angeles. The cost of transporting the merchandise from the boat to the distribution centers, then the physical stores, etc. is less if you're a store in California than if you're a store in Florida. With most large retailers you'll find that different merchandise enters the country in different areas and then gets distributed from there, so some regions have some stuff cheaper than others. And last but not least are local supply issues - sometimes you'll go to a store in one town and see some items on clearance, but those items in the next town over in the same store aren't on clearance. Why? Because sales have slowed in Town A and the manager wants to get rid of them to make room for other merchandise, but in Town B they're still strong.

This is the case for online items too. It costs a retailer less to sell online, but they're subject to transportation and storage issues as well. If they sell out before your order is fulfilled, they aren't under any obligation to have a store manager pull it out of his inventory and give it to you at a discounted price. Their only obligation is to refund your money if they charged you. If they didn't charge you, they owe you nothing.

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