The Australian Consumer Law and other laws around consumer protection in Australia generally require that businesses act in good faith and do not engage in practices that may be misleading or deceptive to consumers.
However, despite the best intentions of a business to be accurate and honest, there are bound to be occasions where genuine errors do occur. One area where this is particularly prevalent is in the pricing of goods and services – where an item has been priced incorrectly, does the seller have to honour this price?
The first place to look is the seller’s individual policies or conditions of sale. These may be displayed at the point of sale or, in the case of an online seller, in the ‘Terms & Conditions’ section of the website, and may detail the remedies offered by the seller in the case of an error in price.
For example, in Australia, because of a voluntary code known as the Scanning Code of Practice for Supermarkets, many of the large supermarket chains adhere to a policy of honouring the marked price or even giving it free where it scans incorrectly. However, in absence of such policies, what remedies does the Australian Consumer Law offer where there is a pricing error?
Where all units of the same item have been priced incorrectly or are scanning incorrectly at the register, the seller does not have an obligation to honour that price. In these circumstances, the seller is within its rights to correct the error at the register by offering you the item at the correct price (provided this is done before your payment is accepted).
A seller can’t attempt to correct the error or claw back any money after they have processed your sale and accepted payment, as the transaction (and the contract) is deemed complete at this point.
Multiple pricing occurs when there are two different prices appearing for one product. This situation can arise where some units of the same item have been marked down and others have not. In this situation, the seller is not able to correct the price at the register and is legally obliged to either:
1. sell the item to you for the lower price; or
2. remove all units of the item from sale until the pricing is corrected.
Misleading and deceptive conduct under Australian Consumer Law
Where you believe a seller’s error was clearly not a genuine mistake and was intended to mislead you, there may be further remedies available to you under the Australian Consumer Law. You could raise the issue with your local Consumer Affairs or Fair Trading body at first instance.