Bitterwallet's Len Dastard wrestles online prices vs instore prices

12 October 2010

Hola queridos lectores y lectoras! Once again, I am Len Dastard, a legal executive with the somewhat ambiguous backstory of a 1970s Mexican wrestler to shield my true identity from los ladrones de la justicia. I was a masked fighter in Veracruz, a savage man who fought under the name El Bastardo – Murderer of Dreams. Completely true.

Bitterwallet HQ received an email today from ávido lector Iain, who wanted to know where he stood regarding retailers advertising prices on their website which were much lower than their instore prices:

On two separate occasions I've been looking to buy outdoor gear - jackets, boots etc. On both occasions the cheapest deals for the specific items I wanted were at a particular sports outlet in the Lake District.

I don't live far from there so it's no problem to take a trip up to try on the gear for size etc, but every time I go their store prices are considerably higher than their online prices - often to the tune of £20 or more per item.

The first time I queried this I was told that it was because of the postage - but this is only £6 per consignment online. Yesterday they said that the online people often undercut the store to get the sale. I suspect that a certain advantage is being taken of their location and tourist interest. On both occasions the store would not honour the online price and were happy to let me leave empty handed.

While this isn't a major issue because I'm happy to buy online, I wondered if there was any legal issue to this practice? Can the two operations trade under the same name with wildly differing prices?

The epic battle of online prices vs instore prices. If you choose to purchase your goods online there is a high chance that the price will be slightly different to those instore. Many companies put this down to there being no or little “administration” charges to cover. In fact, this was the very reason I received from Gamestation some time ago when I politely requested that they honour an online price instore (it's true, Dastardly fans - I may be a fake retired wrestler, but I enjoy keeping my reflexes sharp).

I am aware that rental space of a high street outlet may be more than a warehouse on an industrial estate, but then perhaps there would be higher “administration” costs for operating a complex e-commerce website, for taking payment, for warehouse staff packaging the goods and then posting these off? Indignante! I shouted, as I performed a particularly vicious Hurricanrana on the member of staff as she explained the situation to me.

Alas, there is no law to favour the consumer at this point. Retailers do not have to honour any prices that are advertised on their website. There is no contract in place until the key requirements are met by the contracting parties and unless the retailer accepts your order, processes payment and then dispatches the goods they do not have to accept your order.

Iain did the right thing by asking whether the retailer would honour their online prices, but the retailer unfortunately refused to do so. Some high street retailers do have a policy of honouring online prices, and a quick scour of consumer forums suggests that some retailers will honour prices on the day - and some will not. I would put this down simply to being lucky enough to catch somebody who a) wants the sale and b) has the authority to reduce the price.

While the law cannot help amigo Iain this time, a polite word or two instore certainly did him no harm, and I would always suggest you do similar.

What are your thoughts on why prices can be significantly different online? Have any of you had a similar experience with a better outcome? Leave your comments below, and know I am watching you like La Muerte de Aves - the Hawk of Death.


  • Fuck S.
    You could also add to the mix that online shops exploit peoples idea that online = cheaper. Shops prices are sometimes <= online stores. Mr. F S Sake
  • The R.
    I tend to find that even on ebay the price is more expensive than elsewhere, which is even more infuriating. I know of people who only shop at ebay, because it is cheap. Shop around! Please.
  • MrRobin
    Interesting topic. In many cases, the pricing strategy is simply to do with getting as much money from the customer as possible. It's not because of additional costs of a physical store etc, all of which are fixed costs and bare no relevance on the margin achieved from selling the product. A store knows that if you've made the effort to come all the way down then you're likely to go ah sod it, I'll buy it here because I can take it home now and I can't be arsed to check the prices down the road etc. They know their prices can be less 'competitive' because generally, people value their time more than a few quid here and there in savings, not to mention the cost of going to another shop if you have to drive or whatever. On the web, it's much different; it's easy to flick up other retailers' websites and compare the prices. Retailers have to price items much more competitively else they will lose out. Savvy shoppers like HUKD-ers and us avid bitterwalet readers will of course check online first, or use mobile technology to help us when in stores. On the face of it, it seems the retailer was silly not to permit the sale at the online price. Yes, they would make less of a margin, but it's profit all the same (assuming the online price was set at more than the cost), and good business is about selling the most products possible at the maximum price the buyer is prepared to pay. However, as you point out, there may be problems with authority to drop prices, or sales staff who don't care about this. The other issue is that in this age of internet forums and blogs etc. if it happens too much then word could get out that discounts are given at whim and the whole pricing strategy goes out the window. R
  • tin
    ofc, one of the "administration" costs of running a high street presence is the rent. You can bet a warehouse on the outskirts of blimmin nowhere costs a shedload less than prime town centre retail.
  • klingelton
    Yo yo Tech - windmill street just off tottenham court road are one company that springs to mind whom will honour their online prices as they are often different to those in store. simply ask the member of staff who serves you and he will put it through as an online transaction and allow you to take the goods away with you as though you picked up in store (which you did). I don't believe I've ever tried the same thing in another store as the though had never crossed my mind, however it has now and I will try all the time! Thanks Len for clearing up another retail query.
  • DonRobinho
    Administration costs couldn't have been the cause with Waterstones. Saw two books I wanted on offer online for a combined price of £7 and as I work near a store I just decided to go and buy from there. However, when I got there the charge at the till would have been £14. I queried this and was told that the online offers differ to branch and I would have to order online to honour the price. This I did and opted to collect from branch... These were subsequently posted to the same shop I tried to purchase from (they were still packaged when I went to collect); so aside from postage costs, someone would also have to pack & send from the warehouse which must have cut down the profit margin. Madness.
  • andy y.
    Of course many high st retailers sells on line goods out of the channel islands to dodge VAT. Why does the UK not impose a levy on the these EU tax avoiding islands? Is it because they act as a tax dodge routes for the wealthy elites? Right on sister.
  • PaulH
    WOW I think MrRobin should become Bitterwallets head of Sales.
  • Noghar
    Iain was within his rights to ask for the store to sell the item to him at an online price and they were within their rights to refuse. They don't have to sell it to you at the price you saw online unless they stated online that price was available in store (Like Richer Sounds' weekly newsletter doesn't.) In fact when you buy on the High Street you are subsidising that shop with its rates and its rent and its assistants standing around picking their noses all morning. A shed out in the middle of nowhere has nothing like those overheads and even postage isn't much when you take into account the bulk rates the Post Office etc do for online sellers. Our local mall did their bit to drive shops out of business when they bumped al the rents up by 100% last year. Half the sites are still empty. Go figure the logic of that. We are witnessing the slow death of high street shopping - the tidal wave of chain stores was the first wave. It would be nice to get all nostalgic about it but then shops and high streets were only invented in the 18th century or thereabouts. I remember when all this were fields.
  • Len D.
    All Thank you for the input. On a point which doesn't have a particular area of law govern it, it is quite interesting to see what your thoughts are on this topic. It must be incredibly frustrating for Iain in these circumstances as the prices online are significantly different to those instore. If you are looking to buy a few items then you would hope the store manager would offer some discount.
  • Iain
    Thank you Len for your insight and everyone for their comments. I've just received my online order from said outlet and after buying 4 items with a single £6 postage fee, I've saved £65 on their store prices. Clearly a legal practice, but from my point of view a peculiar way of doing business.
  • kev
    Alot of businesses will treat their instore and online shops almost like seperate entities, so they can keep better records of the profitability of each, and price accordingly to achieve a similar profit margin on both. They won't sell at the online price because if they did that all the time they'd make a loss, and they don't want to be running a site just to have the profits subsidise the losses of their high street stores. If some stores allow people to order online and collect instore, it's because they have a guaranteed sale with no staff interaction way from the tills (unlike the person who walks in off the street and might take up an hour of an assistants time, and not even buy anything), and if they're a bi enough store the extra cost of adding specific orders to the delivery truck is minimal. It's even worse over here in Ireland, people comparing € prices to UK prices and complaining about stores adding a bit extra to cover the huge wage & rent differences compared to the UK.
  • Len D.
    Thank you Iain for getting in contact and I hope you found this useful. By the sounds of things you ultimately had a good result based based on the instore prices. Kev - It just goes to show that as consumers we still perceive the internet as a completely different experience than that of visiting a shop. I know that seems like a strange comment to make as there are clear differences. The point I make is that there is so much more that you can do online these days (supermarket shopping, banking etc) but people are still able to differentiate between that of a distance selling transaction and that of a transaction instore. This reaffirms the point you make about businesses/retailers perceiving these (online and offline) as separate entities.

What do you think?

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