John Lewis glitch has £500 laptops priced at £40

Store offers goodwill gesture, but won't honour the deal

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John Lewis customers who thought they were snapping up a £500 laptop for just £40 have had their hopes dashed.

Thanks to a glitch with the company's website, the prices (and pictures) of various software items were placed alongside the descriptions of laptops, PCs and tablets. Shoppers were quick to take advantage.

But the company has now written to customers who ordered the super-cheap items to say that there's been 'a misunderstanding of exactly what we were offering under the product description'.

They'll have to pay the full price if they want to go through with the deal, it says - although it is offering a goodwill gesture.

"Whilst the main part of the page displayed the software item(s) that you have ordered, there was also some description of a computer/laptop/tablet. Unfortunately this information was incorrect and, understandably has caused some confusion," the letter reads.

"This was a genuine mistake for which we would like to apologise, and accordingly, John Lewis will credit £25 as a gesture of goodwill back into the account that you made payment with."

In this case, the use of the wrong images made it pretty clear that a mistake had been made - which could justify John Lewis's decision. By contrast, when Amazon recently priced thousands of items at 1p last month, many customers had their purchases honoured. Good news for the customers: but not for vendors selling through the site, and some are planning to sue.

Contrary to popular belief, if a retailer makes a genuine mistake when advertising a price, they don't have to honour it. Posting a price doesn't constitute a contract; it's merely 'an invitation to treat'. This means that the John Lewis customers clicking 'buy' at £40, were making an offer - which the store can refuse to accept.

This only applies, though, if the retailer catches the mistake in time - and those that move fast can sometimes snap up a bargain.

This time last year, for example, Screwfix accidentally priced everything in its catalogue at £34.99 during the night. Some early birds were able to choose 'click and collect' and pick the items up at 7am - and one snaffled £1,130 worth of drills for £139.96 as a result.

But when Tesco accidentally priced the new iPad at just £44.99 instead of around £650 in 2012, it spotted its mistake before shipping and customers were disappointed.

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