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Bargain hunting season could turn into a wild goose chase


News Release from the Competition Bureau

The biggest online shopping events of the year are coming up. Nearly half of Canadians are expected to be joining the online hunt for bargains this Black Friday and Cyber Monday. If you’re one of them, before going wild take a minute to learn about an advertising trend that’s on the Competition Bureau’s radar: cancelled discounts. 

This is how it works: when shopping on a popular retailer’s website, you find a super deal on a video game, computer, fashion accessory, clothing or houseware. You place the item in your basket, check out and pay. You then receive an email purchase confirmation. Everything seems normal.

Later on, you receive an email from the retailer’s customer service. They say there was an error and they can’t honour the advertised price. They cancel your order. Surprisingly, when you go back to the website, the exact same product is still being offered but at a higher price.

Under certain circumstances, failing to provide the product at the advertised bargain price could be seen as an illegal bait and switch. That’s why it’s important that you know what to look out for, what your rights are and where to complain.

Be sure to:

  • Always keep email purchase confirmations and credit card statements.
  • Get a complete refund if the order can’t be fulfilled at the right price.
  • Confirm that the money is back into your account.
  • Keep any email exchanges with the retailer’s customer service, especially a confirmation that they’ll give a full refund.
  • Double-check the website if they claim the item is unavailable at the price offered. If the ad is still up, take a screen shot, ask questions and request that it be corrected so fellow bargain hunters don’t fall into the same trap. 
  • Keep records and file a complaint with the Competition Bureau if the retailer claims the item is unavailable at the price you paid but it’s available at a higher price.
  • Know that depending on provincial or territorial consumer protection law, the retailer may have to honour the advertised price. Contact your local consumer protection agency to learn more.

Here are some extra precautions you can take when shopping online:

  • Use a credit card; many offer protection and may give you a refund.
  • Regularly check your credit card statements for frequent or unknown charges.
  • Don’t hesitate to contact the retailer’s customer service if you have questions, especially if your money is gone and there’s no product in sight. You might only have a small window of time to flag the problem and alert your credit card provider.

If you believe you have been misled, contact the Competition Bureau and file a complaint by phone at 1-800-348-5358 or online.

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