If a company prices a product erroneously, then (in the US) do they have to sell the product for that price, if someone buys it at that price?

Or are they allowed to correct the price and not sell for the erroneous price?

  • In New York City, absolutely, yes (see www1.nyc.gov/assets/dca/downloads/pdf/consumers/…). In other jurisdictions, maybe not.
    – phoog
    May 23 '17 at 18:00
  • @phoog That document is for informing consumers about their rights, it's not a quote of the law. There's a difference between trying to rip off consumers by putting up signs for $100 and then trying to charge $110, and having a $99.99 item with an incorrect sign for $9.99.
    – gnasher729
    Jan 4 '18 at 20:55

It will vary by jurisdiction. This is a complicated area of law, but usually an advertisement or a display of goods in a shop is not an "offer" (in the contract law sense of the term), but an invitation to treat (or "invitation to bargain" in the US).

The "offer" is the shopper saying "I'd like one of those please" or putting the goods on the band for the till. The "acceptance" is the checkout girl saying "that'll be ..."


A seller can correct their price, and they are not bound by an mistaken advertised priced. A sale is a contract, and there isn't a contract until the parties reach an agreement. A store being willing to sell (at some price) does not bind you to buy their item, and even if you intend to buy it, you have to overtly agree. In the usual store sale, they will post a notice by the item saying that they are sorry but the advertised price is wrong. At that point, since you know the price (or at the point of sale when you see the price), you can "cancel" the negotiations (sale), before a contract is formed (before you pay and they transfer ownership of the item).

Online sales generally are generally governed by a "terms of service" clause which allows them to cancel the sale in case of a pricing error. The reason why online sales are different is that the correct price is discovered after the sale, and you don't get notice saying "oops, that should be $50, not $5". If there is no TOS allowing them to cancel and refund, that would be a unilateral mistake, i.e. their fault, so they would be held to the price unless the discrepancy is "unconscionable" (basically, unreasonable to assume that the advertise price is correct).

  • This is incorrect for New York City, at least. www1.nyc.gov/assets/dca/downloads/pdf/consumers/…. Stores must post a price and must charge the posted price.
    – phoog
    May 23 '17 at 18:01
  • 3
    @phoog that's now what it says: it says "It is illegal to charge more than that posted price." The store can refuse to sell at the posted price and still comply with this. They can then post the correct price.
    – Dale M
    May 23 '17 at 21:01
  • 1
    @DaleM that's not how it works in practice. The DCA would not accept a defense of "we refused to sell it until we were able to post a higher price, so we're in compliance." That would render the rule useless. Also, your proposed "workaround" would not work for an item with a price label.
    – phoog
    May 24 '17 at 0:52
  • @phoog So stores in NYC are never able to raise the price of their goods?
    – Dale M
    May 24 '17 at 0:56
  • 3
    @DaleM sure they are. They just have to post the new price before they start charging it rather than after. If you show up at the register and they try to charge a higher price than that they had posted, however, they have to honor the lower, posted price.
    – phoog
    May 24 '17 at 0:58

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