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Can a Website Advertise Items as In Stock When They are Not?

By: Lorna Elliott LLB (hons), Barrister - Updated: 30 Aug 2018 |
 
Website Stock Unavailable Retailer Law

Q.

Is it ok for websites to advertise items as 'in stock' when in fact they are not?

For example, I ordered an item from an online store that claimed to be 'in stock' with a delivery lead time of approximately 5 days, or the option to pay extra to get it the next day. Two weeks later, I have not received the item or a notification from them. They claim the item did not state that it was in stock and that they have to order it and it would arrive in a further 3 weeks!

They are still advertising the item as 'IN STOCK' on the website.

(A.S, 20 March 2009)

A.

I can understand your frustration with this, but in reality this happens all the time. Somewhere on the website there is likely to be a set of terms and conditions that states that the store cannot guarantee availability of any particular item, and that ordering from them does not necessarily mean that the item is in stock. For example, it may have been that there were four in stock when you put the order in, but someone else could have submitted an order for all four items thirty seconds before your order arrived. Remember that retailers rely on wholesalers, importers, distributors and other third parties – but that it is the retailer who is at the front end, dealing with disgruntled customers.

How a Retailer Could be at Fault

There are, however, ways in which retailers could be breaking industry codes of practice and/or the law. The first is if they advertised something for X price and when you go to pay it is in fact a higher price than advertised (which is misleading advertising and would be problematic in terms of the Advertising Standards Authority). The second scenario is if they took payment from you, knowing that they didn’t have the item in stock, weren’t intending to try to get the item for you and were purely trying to hold onto your money (until such time as you demanded it back.) The offence here would be one of fraud but in practice proving that this was the intention of the retailer at the time they took the money from you would be almost impossible.

Breach of Contract

Thirdly if a retailer took money from you knowing that you required an item for a particular purpose/event, and then failed to deliver within the timescale you may have a cause of action for breach of contract. For example, if I ordered helium canisters for a child’s birthday party and the retailer, knowing that I needed them for a specific date, failed to deliver them in time, I would be entitled to a refund and would also claim compensation for the loss (I parted with money on the basis of the retailer’s promise.)

Your Rights

If the website has taken your money but not delivered the item, (and you can get the item elsewhere) ask for your money back. Legally, sellers must deliver goods within a ‘reasonable’ amount of time. In practice, however, if you write a letter of complaint you are likely to be told that wholesalers/distributors etc are at fault and that the company’s hands are tied. I hope this clarifies the situation for you.

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[Add a Comment]
Hi I ordered an item from a catalogue showing as in stock but when I rang after more than a week of waiting for an dispatch email I was told that it was out of stock. A week later and they are still showing in stock and when I asked about it they said that are waiting on another supplier but they have not amended their website to state that the item is out of stock.
gothic - 30-Aug-18 @ 11:02 AM
Book - Your Question:
Hi, I would appreciate your advise.I ordered three of items from a website and the items were shown as in stock (3 toys). Order went through and the payment wade through my account.The items were shipped to me and once the package was received I found out that the wrong items were sent to me (1 of them was the one I ordered and it was included in the package twice and another toy that I did not order). When I inquired with the company they told me that the items I ordered were out of stock. So instead of informing me they decided to send me items I did not order.What are my rights in this case?Thanks a lot!

Our Response:
You can send them back for a full refund.
OnlineShoppingRights - 10-Aug-18 @ 2:59 PM
Reed - Your Question:
Hi, I bought an item that had an RRP of £256 on sale for £115, but then a day later I got an email from the company saying that the item was not in stock. What am I entitled to?

Our Response:
You are entitled to a full refund for the amount you paid.
OnlineShoppingRights - 10-Aug-18 @ 2:18 PM
Hi, I would appreciate your advise. I ordered three of items from a website and the items were shown as in stock (3 toys). Order went through and the payment wade through my account. The items were shipped to me and once the package was received I found out that the wrong items were sent to me (1 of them was the one I ordered and it was included in the package twice and another toy that I did not order). When I inquired with the company they told me that the items I ordered were out of stock. So instead of informing me they decided to send me items I did not order. What are my rights in this case? Thanks a lot!
Book - 10-Aug-18 @ 8:09 AM
Hi, I bought an item that had an RRP of £256 on sale for £115, but then a day later I got an email from the company saying that the item was not in stock. What am I entitled to?
Reed - 9-Aug-18 @ 4:35 PM
Hi I placed an online order accidentally with an online catalogue for several items totalling over £500(I’ve now deactivated one touch!) and contacted the company with five minutes to cancel. They refused to do so and said I would have to wait until the items arrived and then send them all back at my own expense I managed to get them to agree to pay return as long as all items were returned in one courier delivery. Some of the items weren’t even dispatched until the middle of February as they later sent me a notice that they were out of stock - yet I couldn’t cancel.They also charged me the difference between the new price of a rug and the original price I had paid when I tried to return a faulty item as it was no longer on offer!They also sent me statements showing a zero balance and zero to pay but I’ve just discovered have put defaults on my credit file! ( They actually owed me money which I’ve just got back after 7 months ).
Aggrieved - 30-Jul-18 @ 6:24 PM
I ordered a phone which i was assured woyld arrive within the stated 7 - 9 working days and in time for my daughters birthday .when delivery was chased on the 9th day I was I formed it was no longer in stock and would be a further 7-10 days. I asked for a refund so I can try and get one elsewhere in time for the birthday.They have told me it will take 10 - 14 working days to processa refund and won't provide me with a refund transaction reference or even detail on amount refunded and to which account until they decide to process the refund- is this lawful ? I find it unacceptable.
Emms - 6-Jul-18 @ 4:07 PM
untitledemz - Your Question:
I ordered two graphics cards at the end of January. At the time the item was listed as 'out of stock' and I was happy to wait for it to come back in stock. When I placed the order the cards were listed as £420 each and I have an order acknowledgement stating that price. However, I received a message from the retailer today stating "Please note that the manufacturers have increased the price on these cards and we can now only supply it to you for the current price of £413.33 plus vat, £496.00 total price." That's an increase of £76 per card. Are they allowed to do this? They haven't taken the money from my account but I have an order acknowledgement at the original price.

Our Response:
Yes, the contract is not necessarily complete since the goods have not been dispatched, so there is no breach of contract. The retailer must of course refund you if they have already taken the money.
OnlineShoppingRights - 20-Mar-18 @ 3:26 PM
I ordered two graphics cards at the end of January. At the time the item was listed as 'out of stock' and I was happy to wait for it to come back in stock. When I placed the order the cards were listed as £420 each and I have an order acknowledgement stating that price. However, I received a message from the retailer today stating "Please note that the manufacturers have increased the price on these cards and we can now only supply it to you for the current price of £413.33 plus vat, £496.00 total price." That's an increase of £76 per card. Are they allowed to do this? They haven't taken the money from my account but I have an order acknowledgement at the original price.
untitledemz - 19-Mar-18 @ 2:47 PM
A well known retailer has used an old advertisement in their current Spring Wedding Shop showing items of clothing we wish to purchase but do not exist now.Is this contravening good practise?
KB - 5-Mar-18 @ 1:17 PM
Im sick to the back teeth of going on to websites that show items that are 'Sold Out'. Isnt there a law against this sort of thing here in the UK?
Chrism - 23-Feb-18 @ 3:16 PM
Stan81 - Your Question:
I've ordered a contract mobile phone online. I've now been told that the phone is out of stock and they'll email me when they have it with a delivery date. I've pointed out that even now they're still advertising the same phone and deal as in stock meaning people will continue to place orders in good faith of their next day delivery policy when the company are fully aware they don't have the phones in stock. Is this even legal?

Our Response:
It is misleading if the retailer knows that the item is not in stock and cannot be delivered in line with a next day delivery policy etc. You can report this to the Advertising Standards Authority. You can also cancel the order without any penalties.
OnlineShoppingRights - 7-Feb-18 @ 12:22 PM
I've ordered a contract mobile phone online. I've now been told that the phone is out of stock and they'll email me when they have it with a delivery date. I've pointed out that even now they're still advertising the same phone and deal as in stock meaning people will continue to place orders in good faith of their next day delivery policy when the company are fully aware they don't have the phones in stock. Is this even legal?
Stan81 - 6-Feb-18 @ 4:27 PM
Dwice1 - Your Question:
I ordered for a motherboard in December last year. The item was advertised as instock. After taking my money I was informed there would be four weeks delay in delivery and when that elapsed another email 5 days delay. That too has elapsed and the annoying part is the price has tripled! Can I get a market value refund since they have wasted my time and not been honest

Our Response:
If you've already ordered the product you shouldn't have to pay an additional cost as that's not the contract you were entering into when you decided to purchase. Online retailer have to deliver within the time frame they promise in their contract and if no time frame is agreed for delivery they must deliver your item within 30 days of your order. Just get the refund (you are entitled to) and order elsewhere.
OnlineShoppingRights - 31-Jan-18 @ 11:35 AM
I ordered for a motherboard in December last year. The item was advertised as instock. After taking my money I was informed there would be four weeks delay in delivery and when that elapsed another email 5 days delay. That too has elapsed and the annoying part is the price has tripled! Can I get a market value refund since they have wasted my time and not been honest
Dwice1 - 30-Jan-18 @ 3:56 AM
Bluetail - Your Question:
I have ordered a few items from an online children clothing retailer. I paid in full and they sent me an email confirmation of my order.20 days later, however, one of this items had not arrived. I contacted them and they said 'sorry, it was out of stock'. I then asked 'have you refunded me?'. They said 'No, but we'll refund you today'. They have refunded me, however, I am not happy they advertised the goods which they did not have and had been holding on to my money until I contacted them. Do I have any basis for further compensation i.e. the accrued interest over these 20 days?

Our Response:
You could try and claim compensation for the delay in informing you. A good retailer might offer a discount off future purchases/a voucher for a small amount. There's actual "right" to this in consumer law - you have been given a refund in accordance with your rights.
OnlineShoppingRights - 19-Jan-18 @ 11:14 AM
I have ordered a few items from an online children clothing retailer. I paid in full and they sent me an email confirmation of my order. 20 days later, however, one of this items had not arrived. I contacted them and they said 'sorry, it was out of stock'. I then asked 'have you refunded me?'. They said 'No, but we'll refund you today'. They have refunded me, however, I am not happy they advertised the goods which they did not have and had been holding on to my money until I contacted them. Do I have any basis for further compensation i.e. the accrued interest over these 20 days?
Bluetail - 16-Jan-18 @ 10:50 AM
Stef - Your Question:
Hi, only a little thing, but it’s annoyed me. I ordered a sports bra and a long sleeve top from Lululemon on 2nd January. Their website says standard delivery takes 3-4 business days.I received the sports bra on it’s own today (10th Jan) and noticed there was no top in the delivery. I checked my emails and I received an email from Lululemon yesterday saying they have despatched my sports bra, but the long sleeve top is out of stock (I haven’t been charged for it). I contacted Lululemon on their live chat and was told that they were checking their warehouses and that’s why it took so long and then they disconnected me. I didn’t receive any contact from Lululemon between the order confirmation on 2nd January and the despatch email yesterday. I know this isn’t breaking any laws and it’s just terrible customer service, but is there anything I can do?

Our Response:
No you can't do anything about this, it's just an ufortunate error really.
OnlineShoppingRights - 12-Jan-18 @ 3:08 PM
Hello, I am wondering to know what could anyone do if they ordered me 5 package of sugar for example throught the website, and I sent a confirmation email but when I went to the stock room I realised that there is not one left. Can they sue me? Which options I have? Thank you!!
Alci - 11-Jan-18 @ 8:45 PM
Hi, only a little thing, but it’s annoyed me. I ordered a sports bra and a long sleeve top from Lululemon on 2nd January. Their website says standard delivery takes 3-4 business days. I received the sports bra on it’s own today (10th Jan) and noticed there was no top in the delivery. I checked my emails and I received an email from Lululemon yesterday saying they have despatched my sports bra, but the long sleeve top is out of stock (I haven’t been charged for it). I contacted Lululemon on their live chat and was told that they were checking their warehouses and that’s why it took so long and then they disconnected me. I didn’t receive any contact from Lululemon between the order confirmation on 2nd January and the despatch email yesterday. I know this isn’t breaking any laws and it’s just terrible customer service, but is there anything I can do?
Stef - 10-Jan-18 @ 8:10 PM
Jul - Your Question:
We went on curry's pc worlds web and did an online order for a xbox 1 steering wheel, that showed as in stock, an hour later we got a call saying that it was out of stock, we got a confirmation note saying we had reserved it, and now we are having to chase them to find out if they we can get this wheel, but are been given the runaround, what can we do as to me I have agreed to have this item and now the price has doubled so where do we stand with our rights

Our Response:
You have no rights to the item...most retailers take the view the a contract only exists once goods are dispatched, so in this instance a contract wasn't in place.
OnlineShoppingRights - 8-Jan-18 @ 1:54 PM
We went on curry's pc worlds web and did an online order for a xbox 1 steering wheel, that showed as in stock, an hour later we got a call saying that it was out of stock, we got a confirmation note saying we had reserved it, and now we are having to chase them to find out if they we can get this wheel, but are been given the runaround, what can we do as to me I have agreed to have this item and now the price has doubled so where do we stand with our rights
Jul - 5-Jan-18 @ 5:53 PM
Poppy02 - Your Question:
Hi, bought a pair of trainers online at launch recently. Bought paid and recieved confirmation email. The email has stock reference number and all other relevant information. 3 days later I recieve an email cancelling my order as it cannot be fufilled. What can I do? Surely if stock has been allocated to me(stock ref number) then the stock must be there! Where has it gone? Main problem here is im a middle man and these trainers were already bought and paid for by someone else based on confirmation of my order. Now ill be out of pocket for selling fees and paypal fees, as ill have to refund them.

Our Response:
Was yours a business - to - business transaction? Or were you just trying to make a some extra money?If the latter, it's a little fool hardy selling items that aren't actually yet in your possession. As for the online retailer, mistakes do happen, even with the best of systems and they do not have to fulfil the order as (for many retailers) a contract doesn't always exist until the goods are dispatched. The retailer didn't inform you until 3 days after you placed your order, which is not particularly good customer service, so it might be worth asking them for a discount off future orders etc as a gesture.
OnlineShoppingRights - 29-Nov-17 @ 11:01 AM
Hi, bought a pair of trainers online at launch recently. Bought paid and recieved confirmation email. The email has stock reference number and all other relevant information. 3 days later i recieve an email cancelling my order as it cannot be fufilled. What can i do? Surely if stock has been allocated to me(stock ref number) then the stock must be there! Where has it gone? Main problem here is im a middle man and these trainers were already bought and paid for by someone else based on confirmation of my order. Now ill be out of pocket for selling fees and paypal fees, as ill have to refund them.
Poppy02 - 28-Nov-17 @ 2:05 PM
Frustrated - Your Question:
I ordered a bed from the discount outlet on Amazon but they delivered the wrong colour. They then told me the correct colour was out of stock and offered me a refund but they were still advertising it as in stock and have continued to do so for over a week. I asked for alternatives that were also being advertised as in stock but got a very curt reply saying the whitewash bed was out of stock and they didn't know when they would have anymore so I contacted Amazon to solve the issue. When Amazon contacted them to clarify the stock status the discount outlet weren't replying to any emails for a whole week. There lack of communication meant that I had to keep the bed they sent as I needed it for my son's birthday. Amazon customer services were made aware of this and said I deserved renumeration and filed an a-z claim. They are now saying that because I have used the bed the claim is closed but are not addressing the issues with the seller over misleading information and lack of response to emails in a timely manner. On top of this the tent (goes under the cabin bed to make a den) that came with the bed is missing a piece. What are my rights for this poor service?

Our Response:
We're not sure what should happen in this instance because you have used the bed instead of returning it for a refund (you should seek legal advice on that). That shouldn't prevent Amazon pursuing the misleading advertising and the lack of repsonse though.
OnlineShoppingRights - 3-Aug-17 @ 10:13 AM
I ordered a bed from the discount outlet on Amazon but they delivered the wrong colour. They then told me the correct colour was out of stock and offered me a refund but they were still advertising it as in stock and have continued to do so for over a week. I asked for alternatives that were also being advertised as in stock but got a very curt reply saying the whitewash bed was out of stock and they didn't know when they would have anymore so I contacted Amazon to solve the issue. When Amazon contacted them to clarify the stock status the discount outlet weren't replying to any emails for a whole week. There lack of communication meant that I had to keep the bed they sent as I needed it for my son's birthday.Amazon customer services were made aware of this and said I deserved renumeration and filed an a-z claim. They are now saying that because I have used the bed the claim is closed but are not addressing the issues with the seller over misleading information and lack of response to emails in a timely manner. On top of this the tent (goes under the cabin bed to make a den) that came with the bed is missing a piece. What are my rights for this poor service?
Frustrated - 31-Jul-17 @ 6:27 PM
Hi, I have been ordering from a website called Rare London. Their items are of high quality and are sold other shops such as Lipsy/Topshop so not the sort you would expect to be problematic. Twice now I've ordered a bodysuit online (different one both times) which stated they were in stock in all sizes. Both times I added a few extra items from the sale just the make the £4 delivery more worthwhile. Both times around 2 minutes after receiving the delivery, I got an email to say one of my items was out of stock. Of course both times it was the bodysuit, the whole reason I made a purchase in the first place. So they refunded me for this item. However, this meant I was left with a few small items which I had paid £4 delivery for which I wasn't too bothered about and never in my life would have paid £4 delivery for. I felt ripped off and if I had known either of the bodysuits were out of stock I would have cancelled the WHOLE order. It was £4 delivery for the total cost of my extra items which were so small it was squeezed into the letterbox. If I had needed this item for an event, and wasn't here within the 5 days it said it would be, by the time the other items are delivered and I'm told it is out of stock, I wouldn't even have time to go out and purchase an alternative. I wouldn't buy this close to an event anyway but surely this is scamming/fraud somehow? Or at least an intentional failure to notify customers when items of out of stock when they know/realize it is, and intentionally wait until the other items have been delivered. This place has terrible reviews elsewhere about out of stock items and not giving refunds. No wonder they don't allow reviews to be placed on their own website. I complained the first time which they gave me a discount for my next order so that was fair enough, but for it to happen again is out of order and intentional. I don't know how people get away with these things.
Hev - 23-Jul-17 @ 11:50 PM
I bought item when was in stock i paid for this and i got recipe and after few mins this item still was avaliable. Today i got call that item is out of stock and they will refund money. I dont want money i want my item which is paid for. First It was good price and second i had another bargain for this i that time and now is gone as well. So because of this company i have been leave with nothing and have to pay full price now
Pola - 9-Jul-17 @ 8:52 PM
Marks - Your Question:
Just ordered a pc from overclockers. Paid over £1200 and paid extra for express delivery. Today get a email saying It's now going to be delayed as they don't have the part?? How is it possible they advertise online a product, take the money. Knowing they don't have the part

Our Response:
You can cancel your order for a full refund at this stage if they can't fulfil their contractual obligations.
OnlineShoppingRights - 28-Jun-17 @ 12:51 PM
Just ordered a pc from overclockers . Paid over £1200 and paid extra for express delivery. Today get a email saying It's now going to be delayed as they don't have the part?? How is it possible they advertise online a product, take the money. Knowing they don't have the part
Marks - 27-Jun-17 @ 11:33 AM
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