What is a Price Mistake? Can It Work For Me?

As you get better and better at finding savvy sales deals, with the help of DealDump’s guides, you’re eventually going to run up against the price mistake. Today we take a closer look at everything around a mismarked price, and what you need to know to take the best advantage.

What is a price mistake?

A price mistake happens when the retailer displays an incorrect price for an item. It’s easy to do- a missed comma, badly generated price movement by algorithms, listing stock price without mark-up, reading the incorrect price on a stock list, or just a system or human error.

Pricing errors are surprisingly common in business, and don’t always have to lead to sour or bad outcomes.

Where things get muddy, is that there’s a lot of rumors and half-facts out there about what happens once you’ve paid, especially by credit card.

We rely on the notion that the price we see is the price we pay (tax aside, of course) and it’s immensely frustrating to have a retailer try and make you take the consequences of their pricing mistake. So what happens when you spot a sweet sale price or major drop that’s due to a price mistake?

Let’s look further.

Things to know about price mistakes

Online retailers are governed by the ECT act, which means you have the right to a thorough description of the goods, so you can make an informed decision. Sadly, it does have some vague wording in it.

That said, they must display the full purchase price (including extras like delivery) for you to see before you commit.

It doesn’t provide direct guidance on price mistakes but does say that you must be able to access clear T & Cs on the website, which should tell you how these will be addressed. So be sure to double-check these every time you buy online.

Additionally, you must have the following opportunities:

  • To review the transactions;
  • To correct any mistakes that they identify with the transaction and
  • The opportunity to cancel the transaction before placing their final order
  • The right to cancel online transactions within 14 days

You must then return the received goods and have your money (minus shipping and handling) returned. Where things get tricky is that many sites will tell you the transaction is finalized when you receive the goods, and they treat your confirmation instead as an offer to purchase.

All the same, and without getting into too much detail, this brings them under the terms of the CPA act, which defines a transaction as an agreement to provide goods or services for money.

It’s still muddy legally, though, as to where in the process you have officially ‘bought’ the product, and where the seller is allowed to reject it legally. In this shadowy area lies issues around price mistakes.

Bait and Switch, and other bad things

So it’s not as easy as you may think to force a supplier to honor the price they set. This is why dodgy companies will use ‘bait and switch’- get you into a store with a fabulous deal, then when you arrive to enjoy it, try to sell you something else at a higher price.

You never get your deal. These are very illegal- but you can’t call every price mistake a deliberate bait and switch. Sometimes mistakes just happen.

There’s a fair-play doctrine often honored by the courts, too, which will allow many retailers to cancel the sale if you can’t reasonably believe the price was correct.

So while many retailers will allow you to take a $25 product for $20 due to a price mistake, as they want to keep you happy, you don’t have much room to complain if they won’t honor $20 for something everyone knows retails at $2,000!

So the best thing you can do is get comfortable with the website T&Cs, which should tell you exactly what will happen with a price mistake, and decide from there.

Amazon price mistake-specific tips

Because it’s an automated IT system, Amazon Price Mistakes happen quite a lot- especially when there are site-wide discounts during events like Prime Day. Smart deal hunters can, of course, sign up to sites to take advantage of these pricing mistakes, if you’re swift on the keys.

Don’t be surprised, however, if the order later gets canceled. Many retailers will let small errors slip- or even big errors to one or two customers that they can quickly retract- but Amazon will often cancel the order if the financial impact is going to be too high.

It’s important to be signed to an alert site like hours if you even want to try and take advantage of price mistakes, as it’s the early bird that will get that pre-fix worm.

Here are a few other things to think about. Firstly, you will likely lose your Amazon Prime status if you use a price mistake on a Prime product to buy goods to ‘flip’ on Amazon because of the price mistake.

You’re also liable to lose much warranty on the goods, as that stops with the first owner. Neither of these applies if the good is for yourself, of course!

Price mistakes are never guaranteed, and if you’re looking to use one as a loophole, it’s probably better to take advantage where there’s a big retailer- like Sony or Samsung- and not a small local outfit, as they’re more likely to bite the bullet and let the first few people get the deal as advertised.

It’s an interesting side effect of the global sales economy- but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a little advantage here and there if you’re a smart bargain hunter! Just be prepared to not get the goods if your timing was too late, however, and try not to be too disappointed.

Sarah McCord
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