What should retailers do about errors?

December 30 2008 by Ellen Roseman

What if you spot a price that looks too good to be true and turns out to be a mistake that the retailer refuses to honour?

What if you have gone to considerable pains to buy the merchandise that’s falsely priced?

The federal competition bureau, which polices misleading advertising, lets companies off the hook in certain circumstances.

The Competition Act prohibits the sale or rent of a product at a price higher than its advertised price. The provision does not apply if the advertised price was a mistake and the error was immediately corrected.

What bugs my readers is finding an advertised price that is not immediately corrected. They want some compensation for their time and trouble (and related damages).

I’ve posted a few complaints below about Travelocity, Bell and Sears Canada.

What do you think? Should companies be forced to make good on their own errors?


  1. Lior

    Dec 31 2008


    That’s bizarre. Even if the item was marked down permanently, they still have to honour what the customer paid originally if they allow an exchange or refund. Definitely follow up on this.

  2. Christine

    Jan 5 2009


    That happens all the time at Zellers. They will advertise a product at a sale price and then not have much or any of it in stock. It has been a problem there for many years.

  3. Jamie

    Jan 6 2009

    The competition act is fine, but how often is any aspect of it ever investigated or enforced? There have been very few cases of action against deceptive retail practices.

    What happens in Canada is in sharp contrast to many U.S. states, where government agencies finding price scanning errors can lead to large fines — like the $1.4 million Wal-Mart recently paid in California.

    I’ve had quite a recent run of errors and scanning overcharges.

    Future Shop had a price error on their site for days, took piles of orders, sent confirmations that the orders were processed and would be shipped…then cancelled them.

    HMV had a product with an individual price tag, not at all obvious it was an error, and refused to honour the price when it scanned higher.

    I had four price scanning overcharges (over what was advertised/intended) in a week from Wal-Mart. One was with a supervisor who didn’t have a problem correcting the price, but was not going to honour the “scanning code” until I demanded a manager, which apparently jogged her memory.

    Four days later, I went back and got another identical item free, as it wasn’t corrected.

    Another instance was where price-tagged merchandise advertised at a % discount didn’t scan on sale. Staff put up an argument “whatever it scans at is the price” (I eventually got the right price).

    Another instance where it wasn’t a problem getting staff to agree to fix the price, but clerk had no idea of the “scanning code” that retailers have agreed to train their staff on. Young clerk then announced “I don’t care” and put it in my bag with no cash register entry.

    I have seen a lot of complaints online recently about Wal-Mart trying to weasel out of honouring the code.

    Also overcharged there a 5th time as they NEVER tax a manufacturer’s “free item” or “buy 1 get 1 free” coupons properly. They are the only comparable retailer that doesn’t have their registers set up to accomplish proper taxation.

    Staples had a price scanning error, fixed no problem (non-price scanning code store).

    Zellers has constant price scanning errors and weird things with their advertising, including 9 consecutive price scanning overcharges (all fixed with little hassle, but nothing done to prevent repeats).

    I’m starting to think stores that don’t adopt the price scanning code are better to deal with then ones like Wal-Mart that do but don’t want to take the “free item” hit.

  4. Larissa O’Reilly

    Sep 8 2009

    We recently had an online price issue with Future Shop.

    I came across a video game on their website for $7.67, save $31, and I figured it was a promo price.

    So I sent my husband to pick up a copy as soon as the store opened, figuring it would be sold out quickly. But when he showed up with the printed online ad, he was rudely turned away by the manager, who said it was an online error and he did not have to honour it.

    We said there was not an advertising correction posted to inform the customer of the error, so he wouldn’t have wasted his time waiting for the store to open.

    This has left us extremely frustrated. Contacting Future Shop’s customer service line only confirms their policy that they do not honour misprints.

    However, when a customer takes the time and effort to go to a retailer for an advertised item and it ends up being a misprint, shouldn’t the customer be compensated somehow??

  5. RS

    Dec 4 2009

    A possibly excellent silver camcorder Sony Model DCRSR47 was offered on the 2009 early boxing day sale on Sears.ca, but my internet order was not completed even though it went through as “product available” with my Sears card, delivery destination and date, and $3 handling fee. The price after $100 discount and with taxes and handling was $284 or $285 and was to be delivered today, December 4, 2009. Now, there is no record of it in the system.
    Unfortunately, I think this one time I didn’t print the confirmation letter. How many people were not able to buy this product on the internet site on the day of this sale? I suspect many, if not all, were unable to complete the transaction at the advertised price. Online, the sale price now runs about $340. I was so looking forward to purchasing this product and thought I had a real deal.

  6. Paul Mulrooney

    Oct 15 2010

    Today I was shopping for a bedding set and found the following item advertised on the Sears Outlet for $74.99.


    When I tried to add it to my cart, there was a system error, so I called customer service to order by phone.

    I spoke with an agent and a supervisor, who told me they had the item in stock but the price was $139.99. They would not honour the website price.

    I find it difficult to understand why these big stores are so rigid on such small matters. Whatever happened to good old fashioned customer service?

  7. Sam Sales

    Jan 1 2013

    We recently attended a Sears Box Day Door Crasher Sale at our nearby outlet store. We were there specifically for a lawn mower that was described in advertisement as a key start Briggs & Stratton push lawn mower for $99.99. The regular price was $599.99.

    There were only a limited number of mowers available @ that price ($99.99) (5 – 10 depending on which clerk you spoke to & whether you were there in person on calling in). This was no error.

    The store opened @ 7 a.m. There were quite a few of us waiting to snap up this terrific deal.

    When we get to the till, we find out that the mowers weren’t there & the shipment from the warehouse was late. We could however pay in advance and they’d call us when the mowers came in. Furthermore, they didn’t have a model number to mark on the receipt, so they used another one – but we were assured that we’d all get the correct one.

    Consequently, we paid in advance and went out the door with receipt in hand.

    A little less than a week later, we received a call from the outlet store saying that our lawn mower was there to be picked up.

    We enquired as to the options (i.e. key start, Briggs & Stratton engine, etc). After a brief pause, the clerk said they’d find out and call us back. Days later, we received a call from the store telling us that they were in the process of “straightening things out”.

    It was then that we began looking online and matched the model number identified on our receipt with the regular price and options. This mower was considerably different and less costly than what we’d came in for.

    Now, below the picture, there was the message stating the product may not be exactly as shown. HOWEVER, the written description was what we were there for – not the picture.

    It’s now been a few days and we’re not sure how long we should wait before we contact Sears HO and ask what the heck is going on.