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I had an odd experience at a large online retailer (call them AtoZ). I'll happily edit this to include the actual name if that's permitted here.

I selected an item that was indicated as sold and shipped by AtoZ, at the listed price of $12.50. I added a quantity of 5 to the cart.

At checkout the price was shown as $15 each, from a third party seller. I placed the order anyway, figuring I could resolve the difference through customer service.

It took a second-level agent to explain what happened. Apparently this is how their algorithm works. If I'd bought just one, I'd have gotten the advertised price, but buying five changed the deal (with no notice) and brought in a third party who was free to choose a different price.

The agent said they've had many, many complaints about this, but it wasn't anything he could change. He suggested I place five separate orders, spacing them out over an hour or so because the algorithm would 'forget' each order after some time.

That mostly worked but it cost them free shipping on five $12 orders, plus a half-hour of phone support, for a likely overall loss.

So, was their original price increase a bait and switch? Would I have had any legal recourse?

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    "(with no notice)" => "I placed the order anyway"... uh... no. Just no. You don't get to say you ignored the price shown to you and then complain about "no notice". How much more "notice" do you want? Trumpets?
    – nvoigt
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 8:02
  • @nvoigt - fair enough, in this scenario I did have (delayed) notice. But had I selected "buy now" instead of "add to cart" it would have gone unnoted until after the transaction was complete. In any event the company is preying on inattention, at least
    – Jim Mack
    Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 16:19

1 Answer 1

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Maybe

This violates several provisions of the Australian Consumer Law, but possibly not s35 on bait advertising.

The primary breach is the overall catch-all prohibition in s18 prohibiting deceptive and misleading conduct; all the provisions in Chapter 3 are specific examples of this type of act but do not limit its generality. You were advertised a price of $12.50 per unit with no limit on how many you could buy, and you were charged $15 - this is clearly misleading or deceptive.

It also violates s47 on multiple pricing which prohibits selling goods where multiple pricing was displayed unless the lowest displayed price is charged. Note that this does not require the vendor to sell - they can refuse to sell at any of the advertised prices; but if they do sell, it must be at the lowest displayed price.

Bait advertising is specifically about advertising a price that cannot be sustained for a reasonable period or for a reasonable number of units. For example, advertising a heavily discounted price while knowing that you only have 3 items in inventory. This is all subject to the nature of the market and the nature of an advertisement, so "flash sales" or "while stocks remain" (assuming there were reasonable stocks to begin with) sales are OK.

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  • Thanks for this, and for realizing that the 'bait and switch' doesn't depend on what I may have done in response
    – Jim Mack
    Commented Dec 31, 2023 at 22:04

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