What if the Black Friday bargain is yanked away from you?

29 November 2019 - 06:36
Queues of shoppers at Mall of Africa early on Friday.
Queues of shoppers at Mall of Africa early on Friday.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/TimesLIVE

If a retailer makes a mistake with a price, can they refuse to honour the deal?

With hundreds of thousands of products about to be offered for sale on retail websites at heavily discounted Black Friday prices, there are bound to be more pricing mistakes than usual.

Do retailers have the right to cancel those sales, on the grounds that the price was an error?

Yes, they do, if the mistake was, as the Consumer Protection Act puts it, “an inadvertent and obvious error”.

If that’s the case, “the supplier is not bound by it after correcting the error in the displayed price; and taking reasonable steps to inform consumers - to whom the erroneous price may have been displayed - of the error and the correct price”.

Four years ago, for example, our beleaguered national carrier advertised on its website Johannesburg to Abu Dhabi business class tickets for a mere R858 each - the normal price at the time was more than R30,000. More than 600 people snapped up the tickets in the two days before the problem was picked up. SAA cancelled all of them, amid howls of protest, but it was impossible to argue that the advertised price was not an “obvious mistake”.

But things are not that simple when it’s Black Friday - a retail bonanza billed as an opportunity to bag incredible bargains.

According to the website Black Friday Global, the average saving on Black Friday in SA last year was 60%.

This week, Brendon Stevens of Cape Town saw a great deal on the Cameraland website for a Fuji X-T30 Mirrorless camera with an 18-55 lens, for R7,389. He bought one with his credit card, and got the confirmation email, but a second email from Cameraland bore bad news - the price was a mistake generated during a website pricing update.

The normal price was about R18,500 and the sale price was supposed to be R15,500, not R7,389, Stevens was told.

“Please accept our apologies for the mistake,” the email read. “We will in addition to the Black Friday deal offer you a SanDisk 64 GB Extreme Pro SD card free of charge, valued at R590.” But can a R7,300 price tag on a camera that usually sells for about R18,000 be regarded as an obvious mistake on a Black Friday sale?

No, Consumer Goods and Services Ombud Magauta Mphahlele told TimesLIVE.

“Based on the information provided, the error could not have been obvious or considered inadvertent by a reasonable person in the context of Black Friday and the massive discounting that happens during this time.

“I would therefore be inclined towards recommending that the supplier provide the goods at the displayed price ...” she said.

A Cameraland spokesperson told TimesLIVE that Stevens was the only person to buy the camera for the “mistake” price, which had since been corrected on the site, and that management had met to discuss honouring the low price in his case. “The customer ... could have thought it was a genuine bargain,” he said.

So the message is clear - during Black Friday, unless the advertised price is truly ridiculous, retailers will have a hard time using the CPA's “inadvertent and obvious error” clause as a reason to cancel the sale.

The day many South Africans have been waiting for has arrived! People lined up at stores from 5am on November 29 2019 to make sure they were first in line to score some of SA's biggest deals.

GET IN TOUCH: You can contact Wendy Knowler for advice with your consumer issues via e-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za or on Twitter: @wendyknowler