How much can an obvious typo cost?
July 17, 2008 4:46 PM   Subscribe

Are there any consequences for advertising a product as .99 cents as opposed to 99 cents?

Recently, I have seen many stores (mostly convenience stores) selling things like soda, burritos, etc. for .99 cents. Obviously, they meant 99 cents. But would you be able to ask for a hundred of said burritos and refuse to pay more than 99 cents because they were advertised as less than a penny?

Would it make a difference if the advertised price of .99 cents was in, say, a newsletter rather than a hand-printed sign taped to the window?
posted by amicamentis to Law & Government (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
My guess is that you could never get the cashier to understand what you're talking about.
posted by neuron at 4:54 PM on July 17, 2008 [9 favorites]


But would you be able to ask for a hundred of said burritos and refuse to pay more than 99 cents because they were advertised as less than a penny?

Yes you could ask for a hundred of said burritos and refuse to pay more than 99 cents, but at the very least you'd be dealing with a cop at the end of shift who is getting pissed that you're actions are 'causing him to be late for his kid's game/date with SO/some fucking sleep and he will take it out on you.

At most you'd be dealing with a store owner and a baseball bat. Is that really worth a burrito? and please, top whatever argument you're about to make about the proper way to write 99 cents and false advertising and realize that if you try this, it's not going to work, especially since you can clearly understand what they mean.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:55 PM on July 17, 2008


Your concern might have more currency if we were accustomed to paying for things (other than gas) in fractions of a cent.
posted by found missing at 4:56 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Good luck trying to get anywhere. Even large corporations have trouble with this idea. Google for "Verizon .002 cents"
posted by toomanyplugs at 4:56 PM on July 17, 2008


If it was printed somewhere, and you got a manager to understand the concept, the company would just point to the fine print of their ads that says "not responsible for misprints". Who knows who added that period? The artist? The sales manager? The layout guy? The printing company?
posted by Science! at 4:57 PM on July 17, 2008


It happened to Verizon a while back, and they got mocked mercilessly by the blogosphere for a week or two.
posted by xil at 4:57 PM on July 17, 2008


But would you be able to ask for a hundred of said burritos and refuse to pay more than 99 cents because they were advertised as less than a penny?

Yes, you would be able to ask. No, they wouldn't give them to you.

This is exactly what "prices are subject to change" and "at participating locations" are good for: "Hey, yeah, sorry, we're not a participating location, but if you promise not to tell my manager, I'll ring them in at 99 cents each just for you."

I've seen this error so often that it wouldn't surprise me if there was legal precedent citing the assumptions of "reasonable persons" as an out.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:58 PM on July 17, 2008


I imagine that if you really pressed your point, you could wind up like the guy who tried to use $2 bills to pay a disputed bill at Best Buy. For those who don't remember how that instance of Cretin Customer Service turned out, I include a link.
posted by beelzbubba at 5:02 PM on July 17, 2008


And I apologize for the wrapper that the link is in--I just looked for the story and that link was convenient. The site seems to be run by morons, but the story is true.
posted by beelzbubba at 5:10 PM on July 17, 2008


That's what I'm trying to figure out - if this is such a common misprint that there would be no holding the company to it because a reasonable person would not believe that an item would cost so little.

I'm not trying to make a point about how to write signs, and I'm really not planning on going into a gas station and demanding a hundred bottles of soda for a dollar. I'm just curious because it's so common that someone has probably tried to do it in the past.

Science! - would they still not be responsible for misprints at a significantly higher value, e.g. a printer accidentally advertised as $11.20 instead of $112.00?
posted by amicamentis at 5:10 PM on July 17, 2008


I'm looking at Fry's ad that says in small type at the bottom: "Not Responsible for Typographical Errors." So I would guess that they got tired of some funny guy trying to get a fax machine for .39.
posted by sageleaf at 5:30 PM on July 17, 2008


Science! - would they still not be responsible for misprints at a significantly higher value, e.g. a printer accidentally advertised as $11.20 instead of $112.00?

I got an Atlas once for my mom as a gift, where the list price on the back of the jacket was $100. I took it up to the front counter where the clerk scanned the UPC, and the price came up as $10. One of my weaknesses is unfailing honesty, so I asked if that was correct. The guy turned the book over, looked at the price on the cover, and said "Yep! Ten bucks!" which is what I paid. So, it probably depends on the store.
posted by LionIndex at 5:37 PM on July 17, 2008


This is commonly known as the storekeeper's decimal point.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:39 PM on July 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


In terms of contract law, I think advertisements are usually understood as an invitation to make an offer at the stated price, not an offer at the stated price.

So you're invited to offer a bit less than a cent for their burritos, but I suspect they won't accept.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 5:44 PM on July 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


IANAL, but I believe Mr. President Dr.... is right-on: advertisements aren't actually offering to sell it to you, as much as inviting you to come in. (I seem to recall it has something to do with the fact that you could get there and they'd be sold out, and you're SOL.)

"Obviously, they meant 99 cents."

The other thing that will get you is that, despite all the nonsense legal verdicts we hear about, the law is pretty good at "reasonability." (You yourself state that it's obvious what they mean.) If it was priced at 79 cents and they meant 99 cents, it's not at all obvious that the price is an error. But if they're selling something that's usually worth about a dollar for ".99 cents," I think the law's obsession with a mythical "reasonable person" would kick in: in the eyes of a reasonable person, it's apparent that it was a typographical error, and thus they wouldn't be liable. (It doesn't scale well to burritos: maybe it was past its expiration date, or they'd overstocked on burritos and wanted them gone, where ~1-cent might be reasonable. A brand-new Chevy on the dealer lot for $2500, though, would be presumed to be missing a digit.) N.B. that I'm basing this on my contract law class, which was (1) a while ago, and (2) not about retail commerce.
posted by fogster at 5:59 PM on July 17, 2008


My guess is that you could never get the cashier to understand what you're talking about.

Please don't.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:04 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


No reasonable person would eat a one-cent burrito.
posted by box at 6:05 PM on July 17, 2008 [7 favorites]


Since the mill is no longer in circulation, no.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:22 PM on July 17, 2008


IAAL - Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America nailed it.

However, there are some exceptions. If a store says in the window "Everything for a dollar or less" and the burrito is $2, then that could be construed as false advertising. There have been cases similar to this where a similar sign was posted ("everything for a dollar") but in the store there was a dollar table with crap on it, and the rest of the store was priced above. Then you have an issue. Here, it's an 'invitation to treat'. You bring it to the cashier, make an 'offer', and then the cashier will either 'accept' or not.
posted by evadery at 6:58 PM on July 17, 2008


Is that really worth a burrito?

Don't you mean a hundred burritos?
posted by BaxterG4 at 7:22 PM on July 17, 2008


"would they still not be responsible for misprints at a significantly higher value, e.g. a printer accidentally advertised as $11.20 instead of $112.00?"

I have had this happen at work before. We have to put up a large sign stating that the ad was misprinted and listing the correct price.

It will also depend on where you are. Michigan has a Scanner Law and my observation is that most stores are pretty careful about making sure the right price is on the right item.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 7:25 PM on July 17, 2008


The same applies to prices on shelves too. Until the actual cash changes hands and the offer is accepted by the cashier, the advertised price is non-binding on either party. They're just letting you know what they consider a reasonable offer in advance, so you don't have to barter with the cashier. Not that you can't try to barter with the cashier anyway, or more likely with the manager. When buying expensive goods, and you're paying in full there and then, especially in cash, you can often get some good deals by bartering the price down for an instant sale.

Online retailers have taken to not taking the money from your account until the goods actually ship - this givens them a bit of time between you placing an order and them realising they've mispriced their expensive digital SLR camera at 1/10th the price they planned to before it becomes binding, so they can cancel the order before it ships.

As evadery says though, consistent and blatant mis-advertising can fall afoul of Trading Standards bodies.
posted by ArkhanJG at 7:26 PM on July 17, 2008


A precedent (of sorts).
posted by mkultra at 7:42 PM on July 17, 2008


We have cameras.
posted by TedW at 7:43 PM on July 17, 2008


Missed it by this much....
posted by TedW at 7:44 PM on July 17, 2008


As a designer, I can't tell you just how frustrating and disillusioning things like ".99 cents" and the grocer's apostrophe are. It's one thing to see them in hand-made signage. It's entirely another to see them in professionally-printed signage, especially for national promotions.

I say frustrating because, from my direct experience, such purposeful typos are invariably put in place by some department head or sales manager who insists that the typo is correct and overrides the writer or designer who is fighting for the correct expression. All you can do is shake your head and wonder why you even try.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:46 AM on July 18, 2008


Online retailers have taken to not taking the money from your account until the goods actually ship - this givens them a bit of time between you placing an order and them realising they've mispriced their expensive digital SLR camera at 1/10th the price they planned to before it becomes binding, so they can cancel the order before it ships.

That's what I was thinking. I frequent the SlickDeals forums and there's a too-good-to-be-true price every so often (think 24" Dell LCD monitor for $49.99), usually from Dell. The order is commonly canceled and nothing more comes of it other than hundreds of complaining comments.
posted by jmd82 at 6:21 AM on July 18, 2008


Obviously, they meant 99 cents

Or they mean .99 dollar(s). They know this equals 99 cents, and when making the conversion they ignore the decimal.
The mistake is not necessarily the decimal placement; it's conversion from dollars to cents.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:53 AM on July 18, 2008


Somewhere online.. I'm not going to search for it... there is an amazing audio file of a phone call from a man to his cell phone company.
They sold international data transfer for .99 cents a minute, then billed him for $.99 a minute (or some such similar thing.) He called and tried to explain their error and no one could even understand what he was saying. It was sad and amazing. He went through so many reps, and they just couldn't make the leap that .99 cents and $.99 are not the same.
posted by cccorlew at 8:06 AM on July 18, 2008


Online retailers have taken to not taking the money from your account until the goods actually ship

I'm pretty sure there's a law that won't allow online retailers to charge for the goods until they ship. It's less to protect the seller from pricing errors, and more to protect the consumer from being charged for goods that are delivered late if ever. But it does end up benefiting the online retailers with that extra lag time, in which they can catch their pricing mistakes.
posted by vytae at 8:29 AM on July 18, 2008


...in which they can catch their pricing mistakes that are in their customers' favor.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:48 AM on July 18, 2008


No. Common sense trumps mathematical rigor.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:49 AM on July 18, 2008


Thanks for all the examples and insight, guys. It's amazing that the difference between $.99 and .99 cents can be so hard to explain to people. This has always interested me and I always am tempted to stroll into one of those stores be like, "I'll take a hundred of those, here's a dollar, keep the change".

But obviously I'm not going to do it.
posted by amicamentis at 8:53 AM on July 18, 2008


Not to mention, in order to obtain .99 of a cent, you would need to snip a small portion of the coin off, which I believe, if memory serves, is a federal offense.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 9:27 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]


vytae: I'm pretty sure there's a law that won't allow online retailers to charge for the goods until they ship.

IANAL, but I am fairly sure you can capture funds before shipping as long as you provide the customer an easy route toward refunding the money on demand. I know some boardgame companies work on this principle for their pre-orders.
posted by mkultra at 10:29 AM on July 18, 2008


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