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I’ll keep this as generic as possible in terms of which store and which products were involved, but here’s the situation:

Location, product(s) and retailer:

I’m in Canada, the seller is a chain store that is well known in their industry, they have a large presence online and with multiple retail locations both in Canada and in other countries. The purchases were made on their Canadian website. The product in question is a consumer product (a type of tool) of which there are many versions; the key difference between the different versions is the materials used. The different versions are easily distinguishable in pictures because they are differently coloured. For this situation we’ll consider two versions of the product: version A is an upgraded version of the “standard” version B, version A usually costs around double what version B does.

The situation:

I’m part of a facebook group that pertains to one of my hobbies. Someone on one of those groups shared a link to the online store of the retailer, who was selling version A of the product around 40% less than normal retail price (it’s common to share such links on this group when you find good deals). The advertised image on the website was that of version A and the description (basically a specs sheet) clearly stated the materials used were those of version A. It was a good deal, not too good to be true (stuff goes on sale all the time) but some group members contacted the store’s customer support to make sure. Customer support confirmed that it was indeed version A. So far, so good, everyone’s happy, a few of us bought the item thinking that it was version A. (you probably figured out where this is going)

A few days later packages start arriving in the mail and everyone received version B. We had a good deal on version A at 40% off, but even at that price it’s slightly more than what version B would cost… so one was happy. We contacted customer support who apologized, they said they did not carry version A (in fact, they never carried it in Canada) and that it was simply a mistake on the website. The website has now been updated to show the image and description of version B. Because they do not sell version A, they say that there’s nothing they can do to provide us with the products that were advertised. They offered everyone who contacted them to return the item for a refund.

Additional info:

Some people who bought the items took screenshots of the webpage which was clearly advertising version A, and of the email sent to them by customer support confirming that it was indeed version A.

My question:

What can I do in this situation? Does it qualify as bait-and-switch selling? How would I leverage that against them?

Ideally, I’d like to somehow force them to honour the listing and provide us with version A, however many of us already took the hassle-free route of simply returning for refund and since the items are worth about $140, there’s not enough financial motivation to call up a lawyer to sue them.

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    This does not sound like bait and switch to me - rather incompetence and genuine error. A key element which seems to be missing is that there was no sales pressure to upsell, and also no "shortage" of the item - they simply advertised the wrong one. – davidgo Jul 24 '18 at 19:26
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    Forcing the seller to provide you with Version A, rather than simply giving you your money back, would fall (I think) under the remedy of "specific performance". Orders of specific performance are rarely granted outside of real estate transactions. – Michael Seifert Jul 24 '18 at 19:34
  • Further to @davidgo's comment, this is false advertising: they advertised product A and purported to sell it, but actually delivered product B. It's not a price-related misrepresentation, but a more fundamental misrepresentation, as if someone advertised a diamond ring but delivered a jar of instant coffee. – phoog Jul 24 '18 at 21:22
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A lawsuit is designed to put you in the position you were in before the sale happened. Since the company has already offered you a full refund, suing would achieve nothing except cost you fees; your time and frustration are not legally recompensable.

It may be that some consumer-protection office can fine this company for misleading advertising; the case would turn on whether the mistake should have been noticed before customer support sent a false confirmation. If you want to start the process, you should make a formal complaint to your local trading standards/customer service office. You will get no reward except relief to your feelings.

  • Thanks for the answer! In light of that information I opted to return for the refund. – Alexandre Aubrey Jul 25 '18 at 18:35
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If 6 adult Canadian residents have grounds for believing there is a violation of the law, they can under §9 apply to the Commissioner of Competition for an inquiry. §74 focuses on deceptive practices, and §74.04(2) says in what way "bait and switch is "reviewable conduct" (would get the attention of the Commissioner).

A person engages in reviewable conduct who advertises at a bargain price a product that the person does not supply in reasonable quantities having regard to the nature of the market in which the person carries on business, the nature and size of the person’s business and the nature of the advertisement.

If the court finds that the law has been violated, under §74.1(1), they may order the person to cease that conduct, to publicly shame themselves, or to pay an administrative penalty up to $10M per (court) order, in the case of a corporation. The provision where the customer gets money back only applies to deceptive claims of bargains, and not to bait and switch.

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    It should be noted that the description of "reviewable conduct" does not match the facts in the question, perhaps because the question is asking about bait and switch while the conduct prompting the question is not bait and switch. It would be better described as false advertising, since the advertised product was not delivered (and the delivered product was not advertised). – phoog Jul 24 '18 at 21:13
  • "they may order the person to cease that conduct, to publicly shame themselves,..." I wonder what a "self public shaming" entails for a company. Long ago it would be a day in the stocks and available "not so fresh" produce to wield at the offender, but is that really stated in the law? Public shaming? – Ron Beyer Jul 25 '18 at 0:07
  • That's a synopsis of 74.1(1)b, which makes possible possible an order to publish, in a manner directed by the court, a notice bringing attention to their act, and a description of what they did. – user6726 Jul 25 '18 at 0:50
  • Thanks for the answer! looks like I can't gain much by starting those legal processes, so I opted to just get the refund. – Alexandre Aubrey Jul 25 '18 at 18:38

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