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

By: Lorna Elliott LLB (hons), Barrister - Updated: 27 Jun 2017 |
 
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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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
Car euro parts and sister company carpartfless selling wheel sold separate while stock last so I bought one this miss bought one putting them out of stock no more left as I had 2 ordered from direct from there store now 1 turned up from carpart now careroparts are saying wait and its going though there priceing department scam artist
tempest - 28-Mar-17 @ 9:32 PM
Purchased a surfboard online from a store who had it on stock. It was a specific surfboard model from a famous brand which he had in different sizes and colors... something very weird because normally when you buy a surfboard you tell the shaper (person who makes the board) the exact dimensions, type, colors... I could have contacted with the shaper of this brand and tell him to built me this specific surfboard, but as I found it in this site online I decided to purchase from it. Before buying it something weird was happeningabout the ones showed available; So I sent a message to this guy in the store asking if the web was ok because whatever color/size I picked the web kept telling me it was in stock! He replied telling me that surfboards take 4 to 5 weeks to be made (oh thank you great info! what a surprise) so obviously they are in stock! and that he couldn't sell something out of stock. So when I buy the surfboard the site send me a tracking number. Delivery time was supposed to be 5-7 days (origin and delivery both in EU). This tracking number offered no information, so I sent him an e-mail asking why was that happening. Then he replies saying that the surfboard is not even made. -------- The only reason I purchased from this site is because he already had it in stock as he told me in the e-mail where I was asking for this exact thing.
misi - 8-Mar-17 @ 12:51 AM
Runner - Your Question:
Hi there,My question is quite simple. I went to a famous sports store in London, I researched through their electronic screens a specific model of runners and I found them available in my size and with a quite good discount included. I ordered them by that electronic device at the store and I paid for them (I've got the recipe).Well, one day after that, I received an email saying my order has been cancelled because the product I ordered WAS out of stock.I am wondering if that is a legal procedure after I have already paid for that product being available at that moment.Another interesting point is they have the same model of runners available (but in a different colour). I do not mind to accept them instead but they refused to offer that option to me.Are they acting properly? Do I have the right of get them?Many thanks in advance.

Our Response:
This happens occasionally with online/mail/electronic order items and as long as the retailer does not take payment or refunds the customer immediately, there's not much that can be done about it.Some retailers will offer to substitute a different colour but most will suggest you re-order using the normal process.
OnlineShoppingRights - 1-Mar-17 @ 10:19 AM
Hi there, My question is quite simple... I went to a famous sports store in London, I researched through their electronic screens a specific model of runners and I found them available in my size and with a quite good discount included. I ordered them by that electronic device at the store and I paid for them (I've got the recipe). Well, one day after that, I received an email saying my order has been cancelled because the product I ordered WAS out of stock. I am wondering if that is a legal procedure after I have already paid for that product being available at that moment. Another interesting point is they have the same model of runners available (but in a different colour). I do not mind to accept them instead but they refused to offer that option to me. Are they acting properly? Do I have the right of get them? Many thanks in advance.
Runner - 26-Feb-17 @ 10:05 PM
Good Day, I came across a watch online that I wanted to purchase for my Mothers 50th Birthday at a discounted price. The Watch was valued at R1800.00 and discounted to R600.00. I had to confirm with my Mother first before buying the Watch that she would wear it as it was different to what she usually wore and didn't want to buy something she didn't like. The following day I went back online to purchase the watch only to see the watch was Sold Out. I then contacted their Customer Care department to find out if they had any left and they confirmed that it was indeed sold out. About a week later I received an email from their Customer Care consultant stating that the Watch was back in stock, so I immediately logged on (their web page showed that it was available again) to purchased it before it sold out again. I paid the full amount and received a confirmation that afternoon that my order was being processed. Then 3 days before the date of delivery they email me to tell me they are very sorry but the Watch is "Out of Stock" again even though I had paid and the status on my online Profile showed they were getting it ready for dispatch. I have now had to tell my Mother twice that the watch I had promised her was no longer available;( My question is: They have other watches available for R1800 but they are not on special like the Watch that I purchased for R600. Can I request them to give me a watch for the same value and discounted price as the one that they have now failed to supply me with?
Jen - 14-Feb-17 @ 7:17 AM
Hi, I bought a number of radiators from a large online retailer some of which I'm now having problems with. It turns out that the manufacturer went bust a year or more ago with the upshot being that I am being offered replacements that will not match the rest of the radiators. The company is still selling some remaining sizes of these radiators with the same 25 year guarantee. Can an online retailer lawfully offer a 25 year (or any duration of years) guarantee on a product that it knows it cannot replace? It seems a bit unfair to me that one can buy 10+ matching designer radiators with a 25 year warranty that it cannot replace on a matching basis in the event of any problems. Thank you.
Mick1961 - 27-Dec-16 @ 10:49 AM
Hi I'm looking for some advice. On the 25th November, I bought a Nintendo nes classic from Argos online, the website and email said I could collect the item between 30th November and 7th December. As this product is quite popular, it's out of stock in most places. I made an 80 mile round trip to pick it up on the 3rd December, only to find they didn't have my item and weren't likely to get one in. Where do I stand with this situation, as I would have expected an email if they couldn't complete the order, it would have saved me 80 miles and a 2 hour trip? Many thanks
Drindod - 4-Dec-16 @ 8:09 AM
Andrew - Your Question:
I have two questions. Firstly, is predatory pricing legal in the UK, and secondly, if a company is offering a product extremely cheaply while out of stock, then increasing the price when it is in stock, is that legal. I have an example of this which is a ~ £1000 display being sold at £450 (a ridiculous and unprofitable discount) while out of stock.

Our Response:
It is misleading to offer goods for sale if a company does not actually have the goods to sell. You should report this to the Advertising Standards Agency and/or Trading Standards.
OnlineShoppingRights - 29-Nov-16 @ 2:14 PM
I have two questions. Firstly, is predatory pricing legal in the UK, and secondly, if a company is offering a product extremely cheaply while out of stock, then increasing the price when it is in stock, is that legal. I have an example of this which is a ~ £1000 display being sold at £450 (a ridiculous and unprofitable discount) while out of stock.
Andrew - 28-Nov-16 @ 6:18 PM
itsChabs - Your Question:
So all this time, this means that this retailer never had the product in stock, and was never going to get this product in stock because it's no longer being manufactured. Despite me asking them for evidence that they could guarantee me of this product as it had been pushed back on so many occasions. Does this then not qualify for your second above scenario of "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"?Especially so that initially I was told it was the suppliers by customer service, then the buyers by a manager and actually, it turns out they cannot get this product for me at all?Please advise as I have missed out on several professional opportunities because of the late delivery of this product (camera) as well as a loss of enjoyment on personal occasions where I had sought to use this product also. Both of which I will be seeking compensation on. Not to mention, that I now cannot buy the product from anywhere else, so will have to buy the next edition of the product which is £300 more than the initial £300 I paid.Many thanks,

Our Response:
We've not really had time to examine all of your story in detail but it's probably worth filing a claim against the retailer for: a full refund, interest for the 3 months they had your money but didn't supply the product and compensation for the hassle/inconvenience/loss of business that you have been caused.
OnlineShoppingRights - 7-Oct-16 @ 2:09 PM
Hi, Yesterday I bought a new mobile phone online for approximately £700. Several hours later when the order was processed the company (biggest in the country..) emailed me to say that it was not in stock and they did not know when it would be back in, but they'll keep me in touch... Now, the fact that they took my money knowing that they did not have the product they were advertising, is that not tantamount as fraud? I mean, the phone is still for sale on the website even now, after telling me they didn't have it, so they know the phone is not available but are still taking peoples money. Do I have a case here?
Ant - 6-Oct-16 @ 9:34 PM
So all this time, this means that this retailer never had the product in stock, and was never going to get this product in stock because it's no longer being manufactured. Despite me asking them for evidence that they could guarantee me of this product as it had been pushed back on so many occasions. Does this then not qualify for your second above scenario of "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"? Especially so that initially I was told it was the suppliers by customer service, then the buyers by a manager and actually, it turns out they cannot get this product for me at all? Please advise as I have missed out on several professional opportunities because of the late delivery of this product (camera) as well as a loss of enjoyment on personal occasions where I had sought to use this product also. Both of which I will be seeking compensation on. Not to mention, that I now cannot buy the product from anywhere else, so will have to buy the next edition of the product which is £300 more than the initial £300 I paid. Many thanks,
itsChabs - 6-Oct-16 @ 12:50 PM
Hi, I have been waiting for a product from an online retailer for 74 days now. They took more than £300 from my account back in July when I paid for the product, however have kept pushing back the delivery date. I had complained regarding this service and treatment on several occasions but little was done and they took the approach which you stated above that the wholesalers/distributors etc are at fault and therefore they would not offer me any compensation. I eventually spoke to a manager around 3.5 weeks ago who explained that the hold up was that they were advised that the camera was in stock with their supplier, but not at there warehouses. And following a discrepancy between the retailer's buyers and the suppliers, it meant that the retailer's buyers had to seek another source for the product. When I asked why had this discrepancy occurred and at what point in the process had this occurred as I had waited over six weeks for the product at this stage, she said she does not have a time line of when these events occurred. But the discrepancy could have been because of a variety of issues ranging from pricing to stock numbers, despite me asking for more information as this was now proof that the delay was on the shoulders of the buyers of opposed to the suppliers or manufacturers as previously blamed, that was all the information she could provide me. The manager then went on to reassure me that the buyers had now settled the disputes, have secured a new supplier and that they will be delivering stock at the end of that month (September 2016) so I will receive the product by then, if not sooner. The delivery date on the system at this point was 04.10.16. As I am sure you gathered by this, I still have not received the product and decided this week I would ask for a refund and buy the product elsewhere, lodging a formal complaint for the retailer to foot the difference in cost as I had initially bought it during a sale period and adding various offers. But as I began to look around, I could not find this product in stock ANYWHERE! My suspicions told me this product has been discontinued for some time, so I contacted the manufacturers directly to find out if I was correct in my assumption, which they confirmed. This product has been discontinued and is no longer available. So all this time, this means that this retailer never had the product in stock, and was never going to get this product in stock because it's no longer being manufactured. Despite me asking them for evidence that they could guarantee me of this product as it had been pushed back on so many occasions. Does this then not qualify for your second above scenario of "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"? Especially so that initially I was
ItsChabs - 6-Oct-16 @ 12:46 PM
I ordered sunglasses recentley off an online retailer, they took payment then emailed me to inform me they were no longer available. I asked for a refund that they said they would issue yet i've still not recieved it. This has been going on since august 1st. What can i do?
lau14 - 19-Aug-16 @ 1:29 AM
Layla8 - Your Question:
I ordered an item in may from studio catalogue. It states allow 28 days from delivery but they keep emailing to say they are waiting delivery and have given me 4 or 5 different dates now that always get delayed. They are still advertising the item as in stock at a higher price. So they are taking more orders but telling me they are out of stock. Can they do this?

Our Response:
No, you are within your rights to cancel the order. Email or write to them saying you would to cancel your order.
OnlineShoppingRights - 11-Aug-16 @ 2:29 PM
I ordered an item in may from studio catalogue. Itstates allow 28 days from delivery but they keep emailing to say they are waiting delivery and have given me 4 or 5 different dates now that always get delayed. They are still advertising the item as in stock at a higher price. So they are taking more orders but telling me they are out of stock. Can they do this?
Layla8 - 10-Aug-16 @ 11:56 AM
Horrible customer Service Amazon! Horrible. So, essentially I bought this from amazon warehouse used via prime. Now theyre telling me they are waiting for the used items to be in stock and wont honor the free 2 day shipping. My question is, HOW CAN YOU SELL A USED ITEM AND NOT HAVE IT IN STOCK!? That makes no sense!! Why would amazon state its on sale via warehouse but not even actually have it!? I already paid for it too. Is this even LEGAL!?
flabby - 30-Jun-16 @ 7:52 PM
Jo - Your Question:
I recently ordered a side cabinet from dunelm on line I paid for it and recorded a phone cal with a delivery date which was 2 weeks from the date I paid , the night before it was due to be delivered I was told via a phone call that they would be unable to deliver as it the item was out of stock. And there was no other stock available in any of the stores. They also did not know when they would be getting any more stock in. What are my right here. They did refund my money

Our Response:
You are entitled to a refund.
OnlineShoppingRights - 5-Apr-16 @ 10:12 AM
I recently ordered a side cabinet from dunelm on lineI paid for it and recorded a phone cal with a delivery date which was 2 weeks from the date I paid , the night before it was due to be delivered I was told via a phone call that they would be unable to deliver as it the item was out of stock .. And there was no other stock available in any of the stores ... They also did not know when they would be getting any more stock in... What are my right here ... They did refund my money
Jo - 2-Apr-16 @ 7:50 AM
Ordered 3 Mac Mini's from an online computer vendor (not Apple) who said they would have stock within 3-5 days of ordering. A week after the order was placed, we received an email that the item was discontinued and is not available anywhere else. Obviously they are going to refund but the item was available elsewhere at the time of buying (for a slightly higher price) but no anymore. We are now faced with upgrading to a much more expensive model.
lho1985 - 7-Mar-16 @ 1:00 PM
Pre ordered an item 2/16 with estimated delivery aprox April. Item not in stock and company has already taken my money. Is this legal?
Matty - 1-Mar-16 @ 7:23 AM
I recently ordered a piece of clothing online marked at £9.99. I didn't receive the item, and when I emailed them they stated it was out of stock and gave me a refund. However since then the item has not been listed as out of stock, and its price has increased to £19.99. If I were to re-order it, would I be able to complain to them about wanting it for the original £9.99 that I saw it advertised as?
Ms Williams - 20-May-15 @ 8:57 PM
@Lynette. Yes, there's some allowance for this but you should not have had to wait 5 days to be told and should be compensated for travelling to 'click and collect' the item when it was not in fact available.
OnlineShoppingRights - 22-Jan-15 @ 12:31 PM
I ordered a product on line from asda direct on Sunday they confirmed my order and took payment from my card, I arranged a click and collect from my local store for the day after, went to collect the item today to be told they had cancelled my order, I spoke to their customer services to be told that they had discontinued the product and that my refund will take 3-5 days to arrive back in my bank, my argument with them was that it stated in stock when they took the money and they said that it was only when they went to ship my product that they didn't have any stock left, so I paid for a product that they clearly did not have and I have to wait what could be 5 day's to get my money back, is it right that they can take payment for a product they do not sell?
Lynette - 20-Jan-15 @ 2:24 PM
I have been trying to buy a tv from Tesco since Friday there website states when its gone its gone. it has been gone since Friday 1am but there advert is still there and it tells you "hurry stock is low" if you order within so many hours and minuets you can collect tomorrow, its not until you have put all your details in and proceed to checkout that it states 2 messages the first being Delays possible... We appreciate your patience while we work quickly to fulfil Black Friday orders. Due to high demand, there's a chance your order may be delayed. We'll send you an email so you know when to expect your delivery... However no credit card details are asked for and secondly. Sorry, we don't have enough Blaupunkt 32/147 32 Inch HD Ready 720p LED TV With Freeview items in stock right now. This item (s) has been added to your save for later basket. You can try to purchase this item again by reducing its quantity. is this illegal? or just bad practice? I notice all other sites state out of stock on the item advertised. Kind Regards Stephen
steve - 30-Nov-14 @ 3:03 PM
@Me. No this is misrepresentative and you should complain to Amazon directly.
OnlineShoppingRights - 2-Jul-14 @ 11:25 AM
Purchased item from Amazon seller. Clearly stated "there are 8 left in stock". Received email saying "sorry, we're out of stock and we should be able to ship out your order in a week. Went back to the same item on Amazon and it still says "there are 8 left in stock".This seller is obviously stating that they have 8 left in stock regardless of how many they actually have because they don't want to lose the sale.I feel that is dishonest business practice but not a damn thing I can do except wait for the order to be shipped.If it takes too long, I'll cancel and order from someone else. Ticks me off!
me - 30-Jun-14 @ 6:05 PM
I ordered a pair of shoes online from JD Sports and selected their standard delivery option to Australia where I'm currently living. I ordered at a time when stock was running thin as it was coming to the end of their sale, however the item (both when choosing to buy it, and on my receipt after purchase) was clearly stated as in stock. The order went through and i received 2 emails from JD Sports, the first informing me the order had to be checked due to international delivery, and the second was a confirmation of purchase, however, the second email had a line at the bottom which read "You will receive an email when your order has been despatched" and this was never received. I placed the order on April 5, I waited patiently until April 30 to contact JD Sports as i believed my order was just taking a while due to it being over the easter period. I never once received an email informing me of a cancellation. After contacting JD Sports, they said that the item was out of stock when I ordered it and it had therefore, never been despatched, and i should have received a full refund already (which i had received, however not notified about). I believe that JD Sports have prioritised their customers in their local UK branches, and thought it would be easier to sell all their stock in their stores in the UK and not have to deal with the hassle of delivering overseas. I have ordered from JD Sports numerous times before I moved to Australia and I even ordered a 'last pair' before and I have never encountered any problems with stock magically running out. After waiting the best part of a month for a delivery that was due to take "between 4-10 working days" without hearing from JD Sports I was utterly disappointed to discover that not only would I not be receiving an order, but I would not be able to re-order the same/or similar item again because they have now sold out over the period while I was waiting for my delivery that was never sent. I feel really hard-done-by and I'm sure they have to be at fault for something. I'm not hoping for any money or anything I just want to receive what I purchased... Thanks if anyone is still reading this I know I've gone on a bit, but I'm just so frustrated at what's gone on. Cheers, Aaron W.
Azza - 30-Apr-14 @ 5:10 PM
I ordered a bike online two days later they emailed me and said they didn't have it in stock and they was expecting it in a couple of days and I would have the bike with me in seven days time when the seven days was up and I hadn't got the bike I emailed them they said they were expecting my bike in today and they would ring me to arrange delivery. theynot do this can't help feeling I'm being messed around.not sure what my options are
meyer - 28-Feb-14 @ 7:19 AM
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