Argos faces angry criticism and the possibility of legal action from customers after it reneged on what appeared to be an amazingly cheap TV deal offered on its Web site.
Over the last 24 hours, Web surfers who logged onto Argos' online shopping site found a Sony Nicam 21 inch television for only £3, a saving of £296 on its recommended retail price. The store was swamped with orders.
However, customers who thought they had bought a bargain TV are going to be very disappointed as the firm said it would not be fulfilling any of the orders at the £3 price.
"We are not legally bound and will not be fulfilling the orders. Money needs to have changed hands for the deal to have taken place," said an Argos spokeswoman. "We are profanely sorry if anyone is upset by this."
She said hundreds of customers took the opportunity to get a cut price deal until the price was changed earlier today.
"People have been taking advantage and ordering between 10 and 50 at a time," she said.
She added that the company was not sure whether it was a human or technical error, but that it was investigating to prevent similar mistakes happening in future.
Lawyers contacted by VNU Newswire said Argos may be in a precarious position. Ajay Patel, lawyer with the UK Consumers' Association, said that the company is wrong and money does not need to change hands for a deal to be legally binding.
"Advertising the TV on a Web site for sale at a certain price is not legally binding. The customer decides to buy at the price indicated and then clicks to submit - that's their offer. The offer then needs to be accepted for it to be legally binding," said Patel.
"However, the Argos site sends an automated email acknowledging the order, this could be considered an acceptance. There is a strong argument for this and Argos could be bound by it," he warned.
Argos customer Fiona Kavanagh said she was very disappointed by Argos's decision.
"I'm bloody annoyed. I thought it was a bit too good to be true, but the price was stated clearly, I followed all the procedures and placed my order. I even got an order number and a confirmation that it was being processed. They should honour their agreement," she said.
"Retailers should take caution as basic contract law says if there is an offer and an acceptance of that offer, then they are bound by that acceptance," said Jim Warner, lawyer at Deborah Mills and Associates.
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