UK vendor's blooper offers £70 Sony Vaio for sale

Possibly one of the biggest pricing screwups so far

UK online technology vendor Foris has committed what seems to be a fairly widespread and comprehensive implementation of the classic 'wrong price' blooper. At some time on Friday evening the site began offering a broad range of products at stupid prices, and word quickly spread on the net telegraph.

Despite the presumably large numbers of people pouncing on Foris' seriously compelling offerings, the company seems to have snoozed gently for over 24 hours before pulling the items from sale. In the interests of investigative journalism The Register put itself down for a brace of Sony Vaio 5600s on Friday, at the bargain rate of £152.33 inc VAT, but numerous other products were advertised at 1p, and there was a 15in Compaq TFT for £36.31.

The Vaio 5600 has now been pulled form the front page, but Foris clearly still has database problems, as a product search on the site this morning still kicked it up at the price of £64.82 ex VAT. Trying to buy it, however, produces a message from AmbleStreet, a hosting company that appears to deal with the IT for Foris:

"We have temporarily suspended the online payment system for Foris Ltd. A problem has occurred with the database and product catalogue. As a result orders cannot proceed to the checkout area. We are working to resolve this as soon as we can. We apologize for any inconvenience."

Attempts to buy a more plausibly eye-wateringly priced Vaio produce the same message, so yes, we're down for engineering.

Foris' sales enquiry number seems to be permanently engaged, the order tracking system has no record of our order, and there's been no response so far to an email enquiry. The size of the problem however can be gauged by the quite spectacular number of discussion groups of people who placed orders (several shouting 'class action') that have sprung up. Some people do say they received a response from Worldpay, which took the orders, saying "The merchant has indeed contacted us to inform us that they have encountered a software problem affecting prices on their website. However, this merchant has a particular set-up which allows him to delay charging the shopper's card. In your case it means that your card has not been billed yet and the merchant has no intention to do so. Therefore, you should consider this transaction void."

This is not true as such, as the money was deducted from cards, however as the money is not actually paid over by you until you stump up your credit card bill at the end of the month, it could be argued that it hasn't been paid yet. Nevertheless the acknowledgement of the order may constitute a contract. In that case the vendor could still argue that it was a mistake, and that the buyers could not possibly have believed that the offers were anything other than a mistake. In which case the contract would be deemed void. The Kodak case might be seen as some kind of precedent in the UK, but it depends on whether a contract existed.

So, how many of the bargain hunters actually believed these prices were for real? Foris may yet come out of this intact, albeit very embarrassed indeed. ®