Buying: does "order confirmation" mean anything?

  squ1rrel 09:56 06 Feb 2004

I just ordered some kit from an on-line site. Went through all the normal stuff including credit card details. I got back an email subject "Order confirmation" - "Thank you for your order ..." etc confirming the items, costs and delivery address.

Next day I got another mail from them saying the offer was limited to those they had in stock and they don't expect to get more at that price.

At what point in the purchasing process does a vendor become committed to provide the goods at a specific price? (There are no T&C's covering this on their site)

Do I have any comeback or do I just have to take my business elsewhere? (but their price is good!!)


  Sir Radfordin 10:05 06 Feb 2004

There seems to be no clear answer on this subject - mostly because no test case has reached the courts to give us one.

People will no doubt cite the Arogs, Kodak and Ebuyer cases that have been talked about many times over. They are all unique and different.

In your case I'm inclined to think the email you had was simply an acknoledgement that the order had been recieved and would be processed. At this point they had not accepted 'the offer' you had made to them and had every right to not form a contract with you. If the money had already been taken from your card it may have been different.

The law aims to protect the consumer but also the seller - in this case they may well be telling the truth and can't get more stock at that price.

Ultimatly you have to decide if you want the hassle of fighting it out or just accept it as something that happens in life and get on with another purchase.

  Rayuk 12:44 06 Feb 2004

Did they say they had run out and if you wanted one you would have to pay new price?

  bfoc 13:18 06 Feb 2004

Is only 'fixed' when a contract is formed. Stage involved are:

1. Offer
2. Acceptance
3. Consideration.

The later is normally, for the purchaser, the price being paid. Though as Sir Radfordin hints this has been the subject of some debate, with claims that the time taken in the process etc should be 'consideration'. There is no clear case law that I am aware of to support this.

So in your case I would suggest that if the company had debited your card then they would be obliged to provide the items at the contracted price. However it would probably be considered that no contract was in place until the card was debited and so nothing was binding on either party.

  anchor 17:39 06 Feb 2004

I do some part time work at a university. Following my return from holiday in January I asked one of the Law Professors the following question about "on line" purchases.

I see an item being offered for sale on a web site and click on "buy it", (or add to basket), then check out. Then, usually on a secure socket site, I enter my details, including my Credit card number. I then receive an automated reply confirming my purchase. Does a firm contract then exist?, Yes, was the answer. All three criteria have been met; offer, acceptance and consideration. (Giving ones credit card details constitute the consideration, as would handing over a cheque, that had yet to be cashed.)

The seller might possibly have a case to take to appeal in court IF the price offered was so ridiculously low, that any reasonable person should know it was an error. For example, a £500 item for £1. However, a positive outcome in the vendors favour would still be far from certain.

This admittedly is his opinion, and as far as I know has not yet been put to the test in court.

  Sir Radfordin 18:14 06 Feb 2004

"This admittedly is his opinion, and as far as I know has not yet been put to the test in court."

And this the bigest problem - we don't actually know what the situation is. The closest we got was in the Kodak case but that was settled in the end.

  Forum Editor 18:41 06 Feb 2004

with anchor's least with a slight qualification.

The 'consideration' in a contract might be deemed not to have been paid at the time of handing over your credit card details - my own opinion is that the contract does not exist until (or unless) the card issuer accepts the request to charge the card, i.e. a payment authorisation code is issued to the retailer. Even then the contract may still be questionable - suppose the card was a stolen one? In that case the card issuer would subsequently recind the payment authorisation - perhaps when the retailer sent the daily 'batch' of payment codes to the card issuer. If the goods have been despatched the retailer is stuck with the charge - the card issuer isn't the loser. It is, as others have said, a tricky question, and one which needs to be clarified. In any event, the commitment to sell at a stated price depends on this definition of when a contract exists, and in my opinion it exists when the card issuer provides a payment authorisation code. That's the point at which the retailer believes the sale to have been made, and that's the last opportunity to say that the price quoted is going to be changed.

  squ1rrel 21:54 06 Feb 2004

Thanks all for your comments - which nicely illustrate the point that its a gray area. It just seems stange that with the growth in on-line purchasing and the number of such transactions every day that this common area of contention is not more unambiguously defined.

To Rayuk's question: they didn't explicitly say they had run out, but that was the implication.

  spuds 23:33 06 Feb 2004

As previously stated,this is a gray area, as no actual case as gone to court yet.The Kodak saga, led to confusions by the different trading standards departments involvement around the country. Some stated one thing whilst other stated something else, depending on how they considered their legal documentation.

You could possibly have a look here click here but it doesn't say very much.

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