When is a contract not a contract

Should Tesco have to sell the three for two items at the reduced price on offer, even although the offer ended three weeks ago?

Or, should the jeweller have to sell a ring it advertises in the window at £100, even although the real price os £1000?

To answer these questions we need to look at the nature of a contract.

When is an offer not an offer?

When it’s an invitation to treat.

I know that we promised that Moneysucks? would be jargon-free but the difference in the two terms above is crucial and has left many a shopper frustrated because they think they might have missed out on a bargain.

The legal distinction between the terms is important in a couple of situations but the one that concerns us here is when you see the biggest and most expensive diamond ring in the shop advertised in the window at what looks like a real bargain at £300.00.

Your credit card is out of your purse or wallet in a flash as you rush to buy it before any other passer-by steals it from under your nose.

Then the hammer blow. “Sorry, we’ve put the wrong price tag on that. It should be £3000 not £300”.

But you’re not put off as you tell the Manager that you know your consumer law and you’re sure that if the shop advertises the ring at £300 then they are making you an offer and they have to honour that offer and sell it to you at £300.

“Sorry”, you’re told. “It wasn’t an offer, it was an invitation to treat”.

And you know what? They would be correct. The retailer is not ‘offering’ to sell you the goods in the window at the price marked, merely ‘inviting’ you to enter into negotiations for them. So the ‘invitation to treat’ is like a bit of ‘foreplay’ that precedes the offer and so doesn’t form part of the process of creating a contract – and if you are a lawyer and there’s a better way of explaining this bit then please let me know!

The bottom line to this one, unfortunately, is that the bargain you thought you were getting wasn’t a bargain after all. Better luck next time!

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