Amazon UK taken down by demand in cheap PDAs
March 19, 2003 5:25 AM   Subscribe

Amazon UK was taken down for over an hour today after a rush of orders caused by apparently mis-pricing Compaq HP iPAQ H5450 Pocket PCs and HP iPAQ H1910 Pocket PCs at £23 GBP and £7 GBP respectively (normally priced at over £200 GBP each)!! I know a few people who have ordered one or two ;) - Amazon is back up and running now but we're all a bit in the dark as to whether we'll get our cut-price goods or not. Logic and fair-play (and the Trades Description Act) dicatates that we should get our goods - but I wonder.... (see also here at The Register)
posted by andyHollister (37 comments total)
Come in Norton DC. Looks like the We have cameras remake has just been greenlighted. ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:32 AM on March 19, 2003

Well, I think you're mistaken about logic and fair play. Any weekend circular I've ever seen has included a phrase to the effect that "we are not responsible for misprints" and I've occasionally seen notices at the front of the store that indicated some too-good-to-be-true price was in fact, too good to be true while quoting the fine print in the circular. Maybe the UK is different, but probably not. includes words that state that if there is a misprint they aren't responsible as well, so from my point of view they have their asses covered. Acts like the Trades Description Act are in place to protect the consumer against bait and switch, deceptive advertisements or other practices which businesses have practiced in.

That said, I would still try to get the offer, but I wouldn't be indignant if I didn't get it.
posted by substrate at 5:36 AM on March 19, 2003

Damn, wish I hadn't slept in this morning...
posted by tapeguy at 5:42 AM on March 19, 2003

Hey, I never said i'd be indignant if I didn't get it. I just see it as a brave rights consumer experiment.... Although always thought that an advertised price had to be honoured by the vendor - and it seems as if Amazon might well be forced to cough up in this case.
posted by andyHollister at 5:42 AM on March 19, 2003

rights consumer consumer rights. duh...
posted by andyHollister at 5:46 AM on March 19, 2003

The article you linked to didn't say that Amazon would be forced to. It stated hearsay that indicated at least one customer was told that the prices would be honoured. I also fail to see the bravery in this consumer rights experiment any more than I see the bravery in a clerk tacking a few hidden charges onto your grocery bill, or hotel bill or whatever.
posted by substrate at 5:53 AM on March 19, 2003

[style note]
When writing currencies for an international audience best use the ISO three-letter abbreviation (ISO 4217) before the amount, e.g. GBP 200, USD 380 &c.

Writing £200 GBP is repeating yourself & not everyone will see the '£' correctly.

[/pedantic ]
posted by i_cola at 5:54 AM on March 19, 2003

Come on, they're only human - errors occur. They paid hundreds of pounds/dollars for this, then they obviously made a mistake on their website. Amazon generally provide a very good service (cheap books, free shipping) - don't you feel at all bad for taking revenue from them? Oh, I forgot, they're a faceless corporation, its ok..
posted by Mossy at 5:57 AM on March 19, 2003

I bought three...

Doubting very much that Amazon will ship but worth crossing fingers...
posted by dmt at 6:01 AM on March 19, 2003

substrate: I didn't say would be forced to, I said might well be forced to - i'm just living in hope! Also the brave consumer experiment comment was throwaway and should have had humor tags around it for those who take this post a little too seriously...

i_cola apologies for that - the GBP signs looked fine in my browser so I assumed that meFi translated them - but I put the GBP on the end just to be safe - I am a nice guy like that.....
posted by andyHollister at 6:05 AM on March 19, 2003

A couple of months ago, they did the same thing with a cell phone/PDA. I ordered a couple, and they didn't honor it. In fact, at the time they issued a notice on the website that was pretty unapologetic about the fact that they weren't honoring it.

So unless Enlgish law is different, I wouldn't count on getting your IPaq.
posted by BigPicnic at 6:15 AM on March 19, 2003

I don't know about Enlgish law, but I think English law states that as soon as an offer is made, and is accepted (e.g., the goods are paid for), then it is a legal contract. If a price is quoted on the shelf, and the goods have not yet been paid for, then no contract exists. But. IANAL / IMHO / DBAWIS / etc.
posted by seanyboy at 6:25 AM on March 19, 2003


(IANAL, likewise) I was under the impression that a price on a shelf is not a binding obligation on the seller to sell at that price but rather an invitation to buyers to tender at that price.

Oh, and Mossy, my purchase wasn't big company bashing but rather enlightened self interest. The invisible hand at work you might say.
posted by dmt at 6:29 AM on March 19, 2003

There was a hubub a while ago about Argos advertising some kind of widescreen TV for £3 each on their web site. As I recall, a law firm bought 500. Apparently, trading laws on the internet differ slightly from those in nonvirtual retail spaces, so there was call for Argos to honour the sales.

Never sure how that panned out, though, and I can't seem to find a link.
posted by armoured-ant at 6:31 AM on March 19, 2003

so "fair play" means taking advantage of someone's mistake? right-o. so i guess "bare faced opportunistic greed" translates to "earning my way"? yep, seems about right. let's try a few sentences:

[hollisterSpeak] this is a really good idea. you are so cool. i am so happy you exist. [/hollisterSpeak]

pretty damn useful! (if i sound bitter, try moving from the uk to a culture where everyone has your attitude. believe me - it stinks. seriously.)
posted by andrew cooke at 6:51 AM on March 19, 2003

Reminds me of an incident a couple of years ago, when was still around, there was a serious screw-up and they had several models (such as high-end BMWs and the like) for anywhere from US$200 to US$4000 or so. And the fine print said, in effect, "The price you see on the screen is the price you get, guaranteed." From what I heard, several people ordered cars at ridiculous prices, and the prices were honored.
posted by RylandDotNet at 7:14 AM on March 19, 2003

There have been websites that were forced to honor the prices that were listed (we got season three of Angel on DVD for around GBP25 due to an error on a website), so it's just a matter of waiting and seeing if Amazon will follow the online standard (the "okay, you got us" approach) or the offline standard (the "misprints are everywhere" approach).
posted by Katemonkey at 7:20 AM on March 19, 2003

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this, but it seems to me that the big difference between a misprint in a print pricing error and an online pricing error is that the misprints are usually caught well before a purchase is made whereas with errors online customers can complete a purchase and receive a confirmation. The online vendor has chosen to empower an automated system to authorize and complete purchases, so it's hard to see what argument they could make. It behooves anyone with such a system to expend extra effort making sure that pricing is correct.
posted by Songdog at 7:28 AM on March 19, 2003

apparently, they're not honouring them:
posted by ajbattrick at 7:35 AM on March 19, 2003

At ease, as you were...
posted by NortonDC at 7:39 AM on March 19, 2003

I'm not sure where it's going... it looks like the law depends on if they've already taken the money from your account.

BBC claims Amazon is refusing sales, but that several people have been told they are being honoured. I wonder if they are honouring the early ones, or people who only ordered one or two.

Either way, it's a PR nightmare. And not one they're new to either.

Mine claims still to be on order, but who knows.

When Kodak did this a while back, the bad press it recieved was so bad they caved in and gave people their cameras...
posted by twine42 at 7:44 AM on March 19, 2003

On the contractual point Amazon's advert is not an offer of contract - under english law it is only an invitation to treat. In normal comercial transactions the offer is the customer's tendering of money for goods and the contractual acceptance is the shopkeeper accepting it. Apparently Amazon's Terms and Conditions explicitly state that they do not accept a contract until they ship the goods.

So basically no cheap stuff...
posted by prentiz at 7:46 AM on March 19, 2003

As for the whole 'if no money has changed hands, no contract exists' thing - where does that leave ebay?

Personally, I hope they are nice to the guy's who just ordered the one they wanted (ie, me) and tell the money grabbing bastards who ordered 60+ to F**k Off.
posted by twine42 at 7:47 AM on March 19, 2003

Phew, i'm somewhat relieved that they're not honouring orders to tell you the truth. I would have been dreading my day of judgement had I actually received any of these 'hot' goods being sold by poor old Amazon (bless 'em). Some of the comments posted here have really made me re-think my attitude to life in general. Thank you all for the re-adjustment. No, really.
posted by andyHollister at 7:51 AM on March 19, 2003

Ananova, say no iPaqs... *sigh*
posted by twine42 at 7:56 AM on March 19, 2003

Thanks, prentiz. That makes sense.
posted by Songdog at 8:01 AM on March 19, 2003

Yep, English law divides transactions into 'invitation to treat', 'offer to buy' and 'acceptance'.

There was a case a few months ago when Kodak offered digital cameras on its site for £100 a go, and when the order went through, you received an automatic email saying that it had been confirmed. When Kodak tried to cancel the orders, it found itself on sticky legal territory, because the wording of the confirmation email constituted 'acceptance', and the pricing wasn't so low that it would fail the legal test that a 'reasonable person' would regard it as a mistake. Anyway, Kodak had to fulfil its orders, and got very burned.

As prentiz says, Amazon has its own terms and conditions:

No contract will subsist between you and* for the sale by it to you of any product unless and until accepts your order by e-mail confirming that it has dispatched your product.

Which might well need to be tested in court, but seems pretty waterproof.
posted by riviera at 8:15 AM on March 19, 2003 confirms the orders are cancelled.
posted by MediaMan at 8:44 AM on March 19, 2003

This leads to another problem...

Mine still hasn't be cancelled... so I got to thinking... will they be waiting for the orders to be ready for dispatch before it flags up the error (as it implies in their ts&cs)? If so, they could easily find their stock control computer has just ordered them a good few thousand H5450's that there is no market for.

posted by twine42 at 8:45 AM on March 19, 2003

We have no cameras.

We have no iPaqs.

So maybe we are better than all those people we rail against after all..?
posted by i_cola at 8:54 AM on March 19, 2003

We have no cameras.

Actually, a few people I know did receive their cameras, probably because they used the fastest shipping possible. This mistake also didn't cause the site to go down, so it took them a little while to catch..
posted by valerie at 9:40 AM on March 19, 2003

Back during the e-boom years, Amazon used to honor these kinds of mistakes. Of course, this was back when their customer base was much smaller and they were more about making customers (very) happy than actually turning a profit.

I remember one morning they had listed The Insider on DVD for $0.00. I (along with many others I know of) tried placing an order, and it went through with no problem. Mine shipped that afternoon and I only had to pay $2.99 shipping.
posted by Dirjy at 10:09 AM on March 19, 2003

Here's a nit-picking thought. According to the BBC article:

Amazon's conditions of use state there is no contract between the company and a customer until Amazon sends an e-mail confirming it has dispatched an order.

In fact, Amazon's exact wording is "No contract will subsist between you and for the sale by it to you of any product unless and until accepts your order by e-mail confirming that it has dispatched your product."

But Amazon also says in their online help : You can cancel any item from your order, provided that we have not yet begun to process it.

What if I want to cancel between the time they've started processing and the time they dispatch the item? It can't be an instantaneous process. For a certain time (which can be more than a few minutes, in my experience) they're "processing" the order. If no contract exists until they send me an e-mail saying it's been dispatched, I should be able to withdraw an item (or my entire order) while they're doing that processing, shouldn't I? If Amazon won't let me withdraw or modify my order, does that not imply a contract?
posted by kaemaril at 10:55 AM on March 19, 2003

No contract will subsist between you and* for the sale by it to you of any product unless and until accepts your order by e-mail confirming that it has dispatched your product.

Since you don't have a contract with them till ships, what (aside from the threat of massively bad PR) keeps them from jacking up the price just as they ship it to you?
posted by Vidiot at 11:12 AM on March 19, 2003

Since you don't have a contract with them till ships, what (aside from the threat of massively bad PR) keeps them from jacking up the price just as they ship it to you?

I don't know U.K law (and really don't know much U.S. law), but IIRC at least in the U.S. such material changes to the terms of the contract would be a counteroffer and would require acceptance by you. IANAL.
posted by gyc at 3:17 PM on March 19, 2003

Just to add to my post: since that's the common law rule, that should also be correct in the U.K.
posted by gyc at 3:19 PM on March 19, 2003

We have no cameras.
We have no iPaqs.

Are you interested in a TiVo?
terms and conditions: if you follow the above link, you agree to give up any past, present and future pony requests.
posted by MzB at 5:01 PM on March 19, 2003

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