Dear Consumer Ed: 

I purchased a rug from a major department store for around $300. The receipt said that all sales were final. I later received a phone call from the store manager asking me to return the rug, explaining that the associate had made an error and the rug should have cost $2,000. I was unaware of the pricing discrepancy when I purchased the rug.  Am I obligated to return the rug at this point?

Consumer Ed says: 

First, we want to remind our readers that we do not give legal advice, but here is our take on the situation... This sounds like a completed transaction and a genuine mistake with no intentional wrongdoing, in which case it would ultimately be your decision whether to return the rug (in light of the salesperson’s error).

The sale of the rug appears complete: you paid the requested price and they gave you the product, the rug.  Moreover, the sales receipt prepared by the merchant includes an “all sales final” provision.  A sales receipt is an acknowledgement of payment, but it can also serve as evidence of an agreement between the seller and the buyer.  This is especially true where the receipt includes additional terms beyond the price that are binding on the parties like, for example, an “all sales final” notice, such as the one found on your receipt.  This is a term that the seller required by putting it on the back of his sales receipt.  Assuming the seller didn’t retain the right to cancel the contract after accepting your payment and handing over the rug, the “all sales final” clause could be binding on both parties.

Notably, under federal and state laws, sellers are prohibited from using misleading or deceptive acts or practices when selling their goods or services.  This can include making false oral or written representa¬tions, failure to perform promised services, failure to meet warranty obligations, using bait and switch techniques (advertising a product without the intent to sell it but rather to lure a customer in and switch them to a more expensive item), or making misleading price claims.

However, here it looks like there was a genuine pricing error and no deception took place.  The salesperson mistakenly sold you the rug at a lower price than the true sales price.  You presumably thought it was a good deal and had no reason to know of the salesperson’s error.  Generally, assuming the buyer and seller are both innocent of wrongdoing, and the purchase agreement doesn’t specify what to do if there is a mistake such as a pricing error, the seller will bear the burden of his mistake.  In this case, that means the department store would be responsible for its error unless you choose to return the rug. Note that you may get some push-back from the store if you keep the rug, so you might want to consult with a lawyer.

Tips:

  • KEEP your receipts, especially for higher ticket items. This is the best proof of what you bought, how much you paid and when the transaction occurred.  
  • READ the receipt, purchase agreement and/or any posted disclosures for terms and conditions that may apply to the purchase, such as an “all sales final” provision. These terms and conditions outline what your rights are.
  • ONLINE SHOPPERS BEWARE. If you’re shopping online, read through the company’s online terms and conditions carefully before making a purchase. Often online sellers will have a term regarding pricing errors due to computer glitches which allows them to cancel a transaction with no further obligation to you, even if you receive an order confirmation or shipping notice.

 

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