26 September 2023

Buyers learn when ‘out of stock’ is out of the law

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The State’s Commissioner for Consumer Protection, Gary Newcombe has outlined a familiar scenario for shoppers, saying that if someone spotted an advertisement for a product at a very attractive sale price and placed an order which was later cancelled, the retailer faced a number of requirements.

Mr Newcombe said if the consumer wondered whether the business was obliged to honour the discounted price regardless of whether the item had genuinely sold out, or if a mistake had been made during the advertising process.

“Bait advertising — where sale prices and special offers are promoted to attract customers — is a legitimate form of advertising,” Mr Newcombe said, “but only if the trader provides sufficient quantities of the product to meet the anticipated demand.”

“The only exception to this rule is if it’s made very clear in the advertisement that the discounted goods are available for ‘today only’ or ‘while stocks last’,” he said.

Mr Newcombe cited the example of a retailer advertising a week-long sale on a product it would usually expect to sell 30 items of which in a week, but stocked just two items at the advertised price.

“This is likely to be illegal bait advertising and a breach of Australian Consumer Law because the retailer does not have a reasonable supply of the advertised product,” the Commissioner said.

“In a situation like this, a consumer may be entitled to receive a remedy, such as a ‘rain check’ (a coupon guaranteeing an out-of-stock sale item may be purchased at a later date at the same reduced price) or an acceptable substitute product at the same discounted price.”

He said it made no difference whether a business intended to mislead customers or not.

“If the overall impression of any advertisement, promotion, quotation or representation left a misleading impression in customers’ minds, then the behaviour was likely to breach the law,” Mr Newcombe said.

He said consumers who believed they had been misled can contact Consumer Protection on 1300 30 40 54 or at [email protected].

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