So, in the UK, if a retailer advertises a product at one price and then tries to make you pay for it at another, that’s mis-selling and they can get into trouble with trading standards, right?

Well, that was always my thinking on how this was supposed to work but, in the last week, I’ve learnt that it’s not the case at all.

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Last Saturday, I was in Paperchase in Nottingham. They were selling some rather splendid graphite pencils at £1.35 each. I decided to buy 2 (push the boat out, why not). I go to the check-out where I’m asked to pay £9. Apparently, so I’m told, they’re £4.50 each. Really?

I go back to the display and take a picture of the pencils in question…

I head back to the counter and show the picture. However, rather than accept that as any kind of evidence, the member of staff (I think it was the manager) leads me back over to them, so that she can look at the evidence herself. She declares that they must have been put in the wrong place. However, if this was the case, not only was the ticket in front accurate for them but, also, there was no other display in the immediate area showing a price of £4.50 (i.e. wherever they were supposed to be).

As far as I knew, they either now had to sell these at the price offered and then correct the issue at their convenience OR get into trouble with trading standards. The dismissive attitude of the lady in Paperchase, and the fact that she wasn’t goint to off me them at the advertised price, meant that I decided to persue the latter.

So, I was rather surprised that this is the response…

UK Civil law includes a principle known as ‘invitation to treat’. When a trader displays and advertises goods or services to potential purchasers, they are inviting the potential purchaser to offer the asking price.

When a purchaser agrees to buy goods or services at the displayed or advertised price, this is seen as an offer to the trader; the trader can then either accept or decline the amount offered.

The trader could ask the potential purchaser to pay an alternative price, or refuse to sell their goods or services until an offer is accepted by both parties.

Only once a price is agreed by both parties would that price be deemed reasonable and legally binding.

As there appears to be no contract in place, it may be difficult for you to pursue the trader; you will be reliant on the goodwill of the trader.

Nothing it being taken further.

So, that is the law. Retailers can advertise whatever price they want on the shelf and then charge you a much higher price at the till and, apparently, this is acceptable. So much for the power of the consumer.

As for Paperchase, I’ve contacted them via Twitter and Facebook and had no reply. I’ve also used their website’s Live Chat service but found myself never being replied to, with it permanently showing…

Please wait for an agent. There are 1 visitor(s) waiting to be served.

After 20 minutes of waiting for this to change I went to lunch for an hour. And, yes, they answered at some point during that but, after getting no response from me, they left and, believe it or not, shut down the live chat service. If nothing else, the customer service as Paperchase sucks.

I gave up and have submitted an email to them, via their website form. Based on the other contact methods, I’m not feeling confident.

Update, 24th July

Although I got an automatic response from my email, complete with ticket number I’ve heard nothing back (this is now 12 days later). On the 17th July, their Twitter account responded to me (9 days after my original Tweet to them) to say that I should email them. I replied that I had but had no response, quoting my ticket number. They never replied back.

When I checked the ticket on their system the other day I found out why they hadn’t replied – they’d set it to a status indicating that they were waiting for me, even thought they hadn’t yet responded to me at all. So I added a chase to the ticket causing the status to go to ‘open’ (which it still is now). That was 2 days ago.

You can also get in touch with us using our Live Chat, active Monday to Friday 11am to 4pm

Just tried this again and although it’s 11:30am, the Live Chat still isn’t active.

So, I’ve now moved to my final, ditch attempt – I have written to them. I have found whom I believe to be someone in charge of customer services via LinkedIn and written to them. Not surprisingly, I’m not confident but I think it’s the final thing I can do now.

Update, 1st August

Finally, I get a reply. But look how long it’s taken!

We apologise for the delay in getting back to you as we are currently experiencing high volumes of customer messages which has unfortunately affected our response times.

When was the last time you didn’t hear a company saying this? But, really? Look how long it’s been – that’s going way past being busier than usual.

The specifics you mentioned are certainly not the attitudes and behaviour expected of any member of the retail team. As a result, your comments and concerns will be taken very seriously. We will ensure the matter is raised with the team and that any pricing within the store is advertised clearly.

Sounds good. Of course, particularly based on how busy they appear to be, I remain sceptical as to whether they will actually do something but maybe that’s just me.

Could you kindly provide us with a clear image of your store receipt within your reply, for us to assist you further with your request?

(Sigh). I made it clear to them that I walked out of the store without purchasing anything so this question makes me realise that they’ve not really read what I’d sent. Chances now of them doing anything? Zero, I’d say.

Oh, and I never heard back from the letter I sent.

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