Sports Direct celebrate 2010 by mugging their customers
Ah, Sports Direct. Newcastle United fans wouldn't lose a wink's sleep in razing your stores to the ground, and now you've gone and pissed off the good folk of Hot UK Deals. Friends, that will find you trapped slap-bang between an irresistible force and an immovable object.
Avid Bitterwallet reader Scott has brought to our attention a series of New Year promotions offered by Sports Direct, available in-store and through their website. On 4th January, the offer was a Adidas British Lions shirt for just £5. Bargain, decreed the masses. While some made a point of setting their alarm clocks early and visiting their local store, others stayed up til midnight to grab the bargains once they went online.
Some customers managed to place their order in one go, for others the older price of £25 was still displayed. Then different sizes of the shirt displayed different prices and for many the simple process of ordering goods online was rendered a inequitable pain in the arse, though eventually plenty of Sports Direct customers bagged their bargain online.
Then at quarter past two on the same day, a HUKD member received a cancellation notice, despite their order being accepted at quarter past midnight. They weren't the only one; whole batches of orders were then cancelled and many customers received a similar email:
Our website is updated on a regular basis and all items advertised are in stock at the time of an update
Unfortunately, some items may be limited stock, if you order an item that we may have only 1 or 2 in stock and an order has been previously place by another customer then the first order placed will be allocated the item(s) as we work on a first come first served basis, and we do email customers as soon as we can regarding orders not in stock
As stated on your confirmation
'This Confirmation of Receipt of Order is Subject to Stock Availability and does not constitute a binding contract. This email does not constitute or represent confirmation of the purchase. This will be issued at the time of dispatch.'
What concerned customers was that it didn't make sense; the website showed availability of the promotional stock well into the night yet orders placed several hours beforehand were being cancelled. How often was the site updated, exactly? Sports Direct also seemed to be fulfiling orders placed after those placed earlier that were cancelled, again making a nonsense of their explanation. Sports Direct then began dispatching part orders where more than one shirt was ordered, along with a Sports Direct mug by way of compensation. In short it appeared that dozens of orders were cancelled seemingly at random, with no explanation except for the generic email that gave away precious little.
A cynic might suggest that Sports Direct never had anywhere near enough stock to satisfy the likely demand, but went ahead anyway with a high-profile promotion designed to suck punters into purchasing other products. That said, there were plenty of shirts available the next day for the original price, so why were those orders cancelled again?
For customers seeking answers, the SportsDirect.com website only provides two email addresses for customer services, breaking the law concerning distance selling which states UK-based businesses must provide a full postal address if payment is required in advance (in case you're wondering, its Unit A, Brook Park East, Shirebrook, NG20 8RY). A dig around the internet will find several different numbers for customer services, none of which are published on their site, but we've checked them all and this appears to be the one you need - 0870 333 9400 (press 2 in the options). Customer Services would only speak to us if we had a question specific to an order, we couldn't reach their PR department through reception and our email enquiry from a week ago remains unanswered.
We've reported Sports Direct to the Office of Fair Trading for failing to follow the rules on distance selling; if you receive a response from the company that sheds any light on their behaviour, be sure to let us know.
Thanks to Scott for the tip-off and HUKD member cb-uk for the screenshot