In the last few weeks, Staples.com appears to have begun misleading customers about the price of some of its back to school sale items. Here is one of their recent advertisements:
When one clicks on that thumbdrive, for example, it takes you to a page like this:
Wow, you think it must be your lucky day, it is actually only $7 instead of $8. You are promised “instant savings” of $12.99, so you add it to your cart.
Upon going to your cart to check out, you get a nasty surprise.
The price is almost three times what you expected. Why? It says you didn’t make the required $50 purchase. What $50 purchase? If you look carefully at the middle graphic above, you will see a box that states that the thumbdrive “special buy” only applies with a minimum $50 purchase. Where did that come from? It wasn’t in the original ad!
Similarly, the other paper items in the ad above are more expensive without the $50 purchase, as are a few others on its website.
That’s not all. Let’s say you had not seen the ad, but had just gone to Staples.com looking for a 16-gig Lexar thumbdrive. You search for it and find this product listing in the search results.
You were even smart enough to click the “see details” link, and you’re told the item is $7 and there is no mention of any required $50 minimum purchase. So, you add it to your cart. And just as above, when you go to checkout, you will see that you are being charged $19.99, the full regular price, because you did not make a $50 minimum purchase that you were never told was required.
In our view, this practice is reprehensible, if done deliberately. We can only hope it was a careless oversight on Staples’ part.
Under Massachusetts law, sellers are responsible for clearly and conspicuously disclosing all material facts in their advertising the omission of which might mislead a consumer. “A disclosure is not clear and conspicuous if any material terms of the offer that affect the price of an item, impose conditions on acceptance of the offer, … are not disclosed in the advertisement itself, but require reference to an outside source..”.
It is certainly misleading in our view to fail to disclose upfront that a particular sale price only applies when a $50 minimum purchase of other goods is required.
We asked the company to explain why they created these misleading price representations and whether they would automatically refund money to customers who bought these items and unknowingly paid full price during the sale period.
Staples’ senior PR manager responded late yesterday:
“Staples works hard to ensure our customers have the information they need to make informed purchasing decisions. In the examples provided, the terms and conditions of our Less List offers were clearly displayed prior to the customer checking out.”
Staples indicated that it might update its comment today, so please check back here later today.