I wrote just over a year ago about how dishonorable our society has become in many ways. One particular area I pointed out was in business how things are advertised very simply (e.g., ‘unlimited Internet!’) while the reality is often much more complex and contradictory (e.g., ‘2gb per month’—which is not ‘unlimited’).
Another area of frustration with me is how companies now feel that they can change the terms of agreements at-will (and justify it by pointing to a sentence in a 12,000-word service agreement that says they can). One of the cornerstones of honorable behavior is saying what you mean and meaning what you say, not offering your customers an ‘agreement’ that they have never read or agreed to that gives the company the power to change terms on a whim.
And now we see another example. Sears.com made an error and offered Apple iPad tablet computers for $69, when the particular model in question typically retails for something more like $699. Many people placed orders for the drastically under-priced iPads, received order confirmations with the absurdly low price from Sears.com, and were informed that their order was being processed.
After discovering the error, Sears.com cancelled all of the low-price orders. I consider this unacceptable. Anybody who placed an order on the site when the price was set at $69 is now entitled to a $69 iPad. Sears.com entered into an implicit purchase agreement with those customers, and is morally (if not legally) bound to fulfill its obligations under that agreement. The customers are not responsible for Sears.com’s employees’ error; they were offered a product at a particular price, and they accepted the offer. Sears.com cannot renege on the offer they made any more than a customer can renege on the offer they accepted.
The proper moral of the story is not that customers should be wary of prices that are ‘too good to be true,’ but that companies should check and double-check the accuracy of their offers before putting them on their web sites. That is their job, not their customers’, and they are bound to fulfill the obligations they enter into.