There's nothing more satisfying than scoring a too-good-to-be-true deal online — and there are few things more annoying than finding out that the deal isn't going to happen. However, it's still important to keep a sense of proportion about these things.
Picture by seabird
Our posts last week and this week about Dell offering a Linksys WRT610N router for $20.90 on its site, and then withdrawing the offer once it became apparent it was a typo, triggered a huge amount of discussion amongst readers. Plenty of people took the opportunity to order one (or several) routers, but right from the start there was widespread recognition that the whole thing might be a pricing error.
That indeed proved to be the case. Dell is offering the WRT610N at a discount to anyone who tried ordering it at the lower price, but with a saving of around $60 rather than $260, there probably won't be as many takers.
There is clearly, however, a minority of disgruntled readers who think that Dell should be forced to supply anyone who put in an order at the $20 price. There's even a whiff of conspiracy theory, with the suggestion being made that Dell deliberately underpriced the routers, waited for the orders to roll in, and then announced the actual price, hoping that some people would buy regardless.
I'm no great believer in conspiracy theories at the best of times, and I'll say up front that such a scenario strikes me as stupidly improbable, especially given that Dell did absolutely nothing to promote the router beyond having it in its online catalogue. I also find it hard to believe that it would consider selling a handful of routers as reasonable compensation for potentially annoying a lot of customers and turning them off higher-value purchases.
But what I find even more surprising is the concept that's being more widely floated: that having listed the price, Dell was completely obliged to sell the product — even though it hadn't taken money from anyone's credit card, confirmed that units were definitely available, and didn't promote the price via any advertising. Australia in 2009 often gives the impression of being a rather unforgiving place, but it's come to something if we feel that a typo should carry a major financial penalty.
No matter how many checks and balances are in place, mistakes are going to happen in retail. If someone doesn't get to buy a router for $20, I can't see any real injury or cause for complaint. You might not think that the compensatory offer is enough, but I can't see that Dell was obliged to offer even that. Life goes on.
Bargain-hunting online is great fun, and I certainly don't see it going away. But if you're going to get stressed every time a deal doesn't work out — because you couldn't make the dates fit, there turned out to be an error, or the site insisted on making it impossible to pay by implementing Verified by Visa — the fun goes right out of it and you might need to consider a different approach.
Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.