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Seckill price prevails in online shopping when inconsistencies occur between settlement price and seckill price

english.bjinternetcourt.gov.cn | Updated: 2022-01-10

     

The Beijing Internet Court (BIC) recently gave a judgment of the first instance in an online shopping contract dispute between plaintiff Huang and a defendant - an E-commerce company. It concluded that the company offered conflicting quotations by displaying both the seckill price of 799 yuan ($125.30) and the original price of 1,249 yuan for the same product on its webpage. The final price should be the one that is unfavorable to the business operator. Thus the court determined the company overcharged the consumer and supported the consumer's claim for returning the product and getting a refund. 

Case summary:

During a promotion period in 2019, the words "get a graphics card for 799 yuan" were shown on the homepage of the self-operated online store of the involved e-commerce company. On the product detail page, a bigger price sign of 1,249 yuan was shown in red, while at the bottom of the same page, words "get the product at a seckill price of 799 during the June 1 sales spree" were shown in a smaller size in black. 

At 8 am on the promotion day, plaintiff Huang purchased two of the products at a total price of 2,498 yuan - meaning 1,249 yuan for each one. The next day, Huang received the products and the invoice, which confirmed the seller being the defendant and the price being 2,498 in total. The plaintiff then raised a claim to the defendant of returning the products and getting triple compensation on the grounds of fraud by the defendant. On June 25, 2019, the defendant transferred 900 yuan into Huang's account without specifying the nature of the funds. 

The plaintiff claimed that the information on the product promotion page made the plaintiff believe that he could get the product for 799 yuan on the promotion day. However when he received the products together with the invoice, it was found out that the price was 1,294 yuan per card. The plaintiff then called the company's after-sale service department and made a claim for returning the products and getting triple compensation. After being denied the claim, the plaintiff sued the company to the BIC and claimed that he should return the purchase (with delivery fee borne by the defendant), get a refund of 2,498 yuan, plus triple compensation of 7,494 yuan. After being given clarifications on fraud, the plaintiff claimed to only return the purchase and get the refund. 

According to the defendant, they did not commit fraud as stipulated in the Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests. The product price of 1,249 yuan was notably marked on the product page. The price shown at the order confirmation page and the settlement page was 1,249 yuan as well, thus fraud didn't stand and the defendant didn't agree to all the claims by the plaintiff. 

As to the inconsistency of the seckill price and settlement price, the defendant explained that the product involved did have a sales price of 799 yuan on the promotion day. But when the plaintiff placed the order, the planned amount of that product to be sold at the seckill price was already sold out, which resulted in the plaintiff buying it at its original price.

The company failed to update the promotion information on the webpage in time. The defendant submitted their sales record as evidence which showed on June 1, a total of 445 transactions were made for that product with the majority of them priced at 799 yuan. It was further found that the orders priced at 799 yuan were all made before 2 am on that day. The few orders at 1,249 yuan were made between 7 am to 10 am on that day. 

The plaintiff added that although they were aware of the price of 1,249 yuan on the product detail page and the settlement page, the display of the seckill price at the same time made Huang believe that Huang would be compensated in another way, such as a rebate, so that the final price would stay at 799 yuan. 

Focus of dispute:

1. Does the accused's behavior constitute fraud as stipulated in the Law on Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests?

2. Is the e-commerce company liable for the accused behavior? 

Based on the above questions, the BIC provided the following considerations. 

1. Fraud in civil law refers to the civil behavior of one party in inducing the other party to make wrong declarations of intention by deliberately providing false information or concealing true information. Therefore, whether the seller has the intent to deceive needs to be considered. 

In this case, the sales record on June 1 submitted by the defendant proved the existence of hundreds of orders at 799 yuan and three orders at 1,249 yuan, at different times of that day. It can be deduced that the defendant was selling the product at 799 yuan and switched the price back to 1,249 yuan later that day. Also, the original price of 1,249 yuan was marked notably on the product details page, and was consistent with that on the order confirmation page and the settlement page. 

In conclusion, the reason for the price discrepancies lies in the defendant's failure to adjust promotion information in sync with its behavior of switching product prices. Thus the e-commerce company did not have the intent to commit fraud. 

2. The dismissal of fraud doesn't eliminate the defendant's potential civil liabilities due to other violations or breaches of contract.

In this case, the two parties had a disagreement in their understanding of the provision of the prices.

The objects of contract interpretation shall include all the contents delivered by the parties, instead of only the price marked at a prominent spot on the website. The defendant’s offering of product promotion information complies with the lawful provisions on offers. Therefore, the promotion information both on the homepage and the order details page shall be considered as offers and shall be included in the scope of contract interpretation as part of the terms of the contract.

When disagreements on the understanding of contract terms occur, the true meaning of the terms should be determined in accordance with the words used and the relevant provisions in the contract, the purpose of the contract, transaction custom and the principle of good faith. In case of any dispute over the understanding of standard terms, the usual understanding shall be taken as interpretation. If there is more than one version of interpretation to the same standard term, the version unfavorable to the party providing the standard term shall apply.

In this case, the price on the product details page, the order confirmation page and the settlement page was 1,249 yuan, which means the final transaction price was 1,249 yuan. The promotion content saying "get the product for 799 yuan" and "seckill price at 799 yuan" without specifying the promotion time frame, yielded another interpretation that although priced at 1,249 yuan, the product's final price would still be 799 yuan via other means of promotion.

Therefore, by usual understanding, there were two versions of interpretation as to the price provisions of the product.

During promotion activities, e-commerce operators should fully protect consumers' right to know and distribute product information professionally and cautiously with full comprehension of the features of network information dissemination, in order to convey clear messages to consumers. In case of information errors, the sellers should notify consumers in a timely fashion and correct the errors.

In this case, the quotation discrepancies occurred due to the defendant's failure to inform the buyer about the price change. Therefore the defendant should bear the consequence that is against its benefit. As the defendant was the provider of the standard terms in this case, the final interpretation should be the one unfavorable to the defendant which was the price of 799 as the final price. 

With the above conclusion, the plaintiff was overcharged by 900 yuan and could demand to get the overcharged amount refunded or to return the products and get the full refund. Upon clarification, the plaintiff insisted on a full product return and refund. The court supported the plaintiff's request. 

Details of the judgment:

1. Within seven days of the judgment, the plaintiff was ordered to return the two products involved in the case to the defendant.

2. Within seven days of the judgment, the defendant was ordered to refund 1,598 yuan as purchase funds to the plaintiff.

3. Other claims of the plaintiff were rejected. 

Significance:

Inconsistencies between promotion price and settlement price can blemish consumers' online shopping experiences. The judgment of the case pointed out that as parties with technology and information advantages, e-commerce operators should convey clear pricing information to consumers. 

If information inconsistencies occur due to the seller's negligence and failure to inform and correct, the seller shall bear the unfavorable consequences. Consumers can claim for an interpretation that unfavorable to the seller and demand a return of the price difference or return of purchase and refund.