Retailers · Shopping

The Woeful Tale of the Paisley Chairs

You don’t have to go far on the internet to find people who believe the world owes them a deal.

A story recently surfaced right in my town of a fraternity…not to name names, but Delta Chi….that believed they were getting the deal of a century. Menards, a Midwestern home improvement store, was selling chairs that retailed for $358 for a penny. Mind you, not ALL the styles of this particular chair…the others were all still $358. But one style of this chair was a mind-boggling 99.9972 percent off, and people (including said Delta Chi fraternity) noticed.

So called “bargain hunters” have an apparent belief that transactions should be one-sided; their side. Never mind the consequences for the retailer. It should come as no shock to you that the instant this mistake was noticed, it was widely publicized on the internet and people flocked to buy up the chairs. Not one single person brought the issue to Menards’ attention. Instead, the bargain hunter cheapskates thought they had hit the jackpot. As for the deal being too good to be true, one such person said “Yeah, for the most part I figured [it was too good to be true,] but I’d figured I try it anyway. I was only losing a few cents”.

Then came the email from Menards: “For a brief period over the weekend a chair appeared on our website priced at 1¢.  This chair was a figment of a computer’s imagination and we are diligently looking into the cause of this temporary and isolated glitch.  We are sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.  Obviously, if anyone actually ordered one, we will be very prompt in returning their penny.”

Back to the fraternity. Without knowing exactly what they would do with them, the fraternity ordered 4,200 chairs. That’s right, they paid $50 (with tax) for a chair order that should have been $1.5 million. Unsurprisingly, the fraternity continued to push the issue in some attempt at sympathy. “We feel this entire debacle has been incredibly unjust. Not only are they threatening to dishonor our purchase, but they’re putting the blame on the ‘imagination’ of ‘the computer.’” Menards is not “threatening” to dishonor the purchase. As within their rights, they cancelled it. Dishonored it, if you will. Not unlike the bargain hunters, the irony of attempting to essentially steal a million and a half dollars in furniture and calling it “unjust” is lost on them.

Taking it further, the fraternity opted to write to one of the state’s US congressman that happens to be a graduate of their fraternity. Said congressman, Mr. Jim Banks, frighteningly ignorant of the “law” for a lawmaker, then issued a statement that Menards should honor the pricing. “The actions of the men of IU Delta Chi represent what we want from fraternities everywhere – a commitment to philanthropy and the betterment of our communities at large,” Banks’ letter reads. “I believe that the spirit behind the purchase of these chairs should be both encouraged and supported.” At some point in all this, the fraternity decided that it was going to sell the chairs at a discount from retail and donate the money to the Jimmy V Foundation. As of this post, Menards has chosen to ignore the request.

The fraternity was not alone. People crawled out of the woodwork bashing Menards for cancelling their orders of “hundreds of chairs” that they needed for this, that, or the other. Yes, people not only saw this deal, but all over the country thought “I’m going to order hundreds of these” instead of “this is wrong. I should say something”.

Menards, of course, is completely in its rights to cancel the orders. Laws against false or deceptive advertising require an intent to deceive on the part of the advertiser. If a company can demonstrate that an advertised price was simply a mistake, then it’s not false advertising.

For retailers, let this be a lesson in ensuring your terms and conditions are up to date, particularly if you sell online. Make sure that you don’t give the impression that “acknowledging an order” is the same as “accepting an order” when you send your emails. And for the love of god, make sure you have someone monitoring your system so these vultures don’t eat your company. “Wow, we’ve had a 10,000% increase in sales on paisley lawn chairs in the last hour” should be a hint.

You, as a retailer, have the power to say no. In cases like this, the law is on your side. In everyday business, bargain hunters are owed nothing. In fact, in my day job, I provide most of the companies I assist with data showing that these types of customers are in fact more of a drain on their company than they are worth. They may threaten to take their business elsewhere, but in the end that is the best outcome for the retailer. It is more worth their time to focus on fair yet reasonable pricing and sell to customers that value their time and money. Be the best, with the best quality.

We live in a culture where everyone expects to be given a deal. Retail is for chumps. Because this is ‘Merica, sites actually exist solely to prey on pricing mistakes and trumpet them to the world. Unsurprisingly, these types of shoppers are the most common victims of fraud, as they are willing to order from unfamiliar sites to save a few bucks, or go through shady means (like Craigslist) to get deals. These are not loyal shoppers. They will follow the deals. They will literally trample one another on black Friday to save 10% off an Xbox.

We as a society need to lay off the “deals”. If we want society to move forward, instead of asking what kind of deal you can get, ask “can you get me what I need, done well and on-time?” If something is too good to be true, it probably is, and if something is obviously a mistake, point it out and don’t be a douchebag and try to “take advantage of it”. Focus on quality, not quantity. And don’t trample grandma the day after Thanksgiving.


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