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UK Retailer Mistakenly Sends PS Vitas, Threatens Legal Action To Get Them Back 617

Posted by Soulskill
from the ethics-vs-free-stuff dept.
New submitter Retron writes "The BBC brings news that British retailer Zavvi mistakenly sent out PlayStation Vitas to people who had preordered a game called Tearaway. The company is now threatening legal action against those who have kept theirs despite a request to return them. It's unclear whether the Distance Selling Act protects consumers who have mistakenly been sent an expensive item, and forums such as Eurogamer seem divided on the issue."
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UK Retailer Mistakenly Sends PS Vitas, Threatens Legal Action To Get Them Back

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  • by JDG1980 (2438906) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @07:24PM (#45665479)

    I do not know what UK laws are in this area, but I do know that US laws specifically state that unsolicited merchandise is legally considered a gift [usps.com]. Think about it: if things didn't work this way, you could wind up being billed (and having your credit report dinged) for "debts" you never agreed to! Alternatively, if companies could get away with sending you more expensive merchandise than you actually ordered and then billing you for it (or demanding, after the fact, that you take the time and trouble to send it back to them), then you'd be opening the door to merchants committing all kinds of bait-and-switch scams.

    This seems to have been a genuine accident, and sucks for Zavvi, but they should not be allowed to threaten or instigate any legal action against the receivers. Even demanding the recipients mail it back with postage paid by the company is still requiring them to perform unpaid work (packaging, driving to the post office, etc.) for something they didn't do and aren't responsible for.

  • by Dega704 (1454673) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @07:28PM (#45665517)
    Mistakes happen. They weren't expecting them so it shouldn't be too heartbreaking to return them. I'll probably get flamed for this, but you have to be one self-entitled little twerp to expect to be able to keep it. As long as Zawi pays for shipping they have every right to want them back. If you mistakenly shipped something expensive to the wrong address, would you be miffed if they refused to return it? Who wouldn't?
  • by enoz (1181117) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @07:29PM (#45665525)

    If the situation was reserved, say the customers received £19.99 Tearaway after ordering a £169.99 PS Vita, they would be fighting to return it.

    The customers received an item that was worth more than what they paid, and are simply being greedy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @07:34PM (#45665569)

    A person receiving unsolicited goods they know to have received by mistake has a duty to care for them and make arrangements to return them, and only then is their duty disposed of. The same law covers when something is considered a gift:
     
     

    24.—(1) Paragraphs (2) and (3) apply if—

    (a) unsolicited goods are sent to a person (“the recipient”) with a view to his acquiring them;

    (b) the recipient has no reasonable cause to believe that they were sent with a view to their being acquired for the purposes of a business; and

    (c) the recipient has neither agreed to acquire nor agreed to return them.

    (2) The recipient may, as between himself and the sender, use, deal with or dispose of the goods as if they were an unconditional gift to him.

    (3) The rights of the sender to the goods are extinguished.

  • by DrXym (126579) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @07:34PM (#45665581)
    Thing is these, things were not "unsolicited". The person ordered one thing (a game called Tearaway) and through an obvious database mistake received something of higher value (a PS Vita Tearaway bundle). It's not like the consoles just turned up out of the blue. I expect the retailer is well within their rights to demand the item to be returned even if they are responsible for paying the postage to have them returned.
  • Re:The way to go. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rsborg (111459) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @07:36PM (#45665601) Homepage

    The best thing for Zawi to do is probably just call it a loss. They have done the chest thumping and legal threats and probably have gotten most units back. Going to court would probably cost more time and money than the value of the PS. Offer anyone that did send their units back a gift card to reward honesty for a decent amount so no one would think that they would have been better off keeping the PS. The next step is getting your shit together so that it doesn't happen again.

    Well, gosh, that'd just make me feel like an idiot if I was one of those that hadn't returned the items. At this point, I think they're past the point of no return - best course would have been to silent about the missing units, show due diligence in re-acquiring product, and move on, but now that they've complained about it won't people wonder what happened?

  • Re:Keep it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Ralph Wiggam (22354) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @07:40PM (#45665653) Homepage

    Except there was nothing unsolicited about this incident. The customers initiated the transaction by ordering a game. The company screwed up filling those orders. It has no relation to the "scummy business practice" example you provide.

  • by rahvin112 (446269) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @07:40PM (#45665655)

    So you think Zawi should have to compensate the people for their time, gas and other expenses to ship the product back?

    What if they have to drive 4 miles and spend an hour of their time to drop it off for shipping? Or conversely they have to take a day off work to wait for the delivery truck to pick it up?

  • by Dega704 (1454673) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @07:44PM (#45665683)
    I don't give a flying crap because this isn't about the law. It's about common decency. You would be cursing said law instead of citing it if the same thing had happened to you.
  • UK Law is clear (Score:4, Insightful)

    by timmyf2371 (586051) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @07:45PM (#45665691)

    UK law is clear in that ownership has not transferred to the recipients and that the items should be returned.

    I think in this type of situation, it's a reasonable expectation that the recipient should return the PS Vita too. They paid £19.99 and got sent a completely different item; it isn't as if the PS Vita was priced at £19.99 in error and the company mistakenly fulfilled the order.

    Sadly, I see similar situations happen all the time. Companies make a mistake with their pricing online and don't fulfil the order and the people who thought they were getting a 40" TV for £50 start talking about their "right" to buy it for that price.

    It's an obvious mistake by the retailer and if their customers are being uncooperative then they have every right to pursue the legal avenue. Let's turn it around a bit: if the customers had asked to return the game they bought and accidentally sent a PS Vita to the company, would the customers be arguing that their mistake represented an "unsolicited gift"?

  • by Lendrick (314723) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @07:49PM (#45665725) Homepage Journal

    It sounds to me like the retailer would not only be out of luck on the consoles, but would still owe people their games.

    If I received a Vita in the mail from a retailer, this being the Holiday season, my first assumption would be that someone gave me a Vita, not that the retailer sent it to me accidentally. At that point, I'd probably buy some games for it and start using it. If the retailer then demanded it back, not only have I spent money buying games for it, I now have to spend the extra time packaging it to return it (and possibly the money, too). I don't owe them that inconvenience just because they sent me the wrong thing, and furthermore, they still owe me a game.

  • Re:Keep it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mspohr (589790) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @07:51PM (#45665745)

    Customer ordered one thing, company sent another thing and is now threatening them with legal action and fines... sounds scummy to me.
    The company should just admit they made a mistake and politely request a return... however, if the customer doesn't want to return it, they don't have to. Company made a mistake and is now acting scummy. Company made a mistake and it will cost them... consequences.
    People are always saying the consumers need to be responsible and suffer consequences... this should apply to companies also.

  • by Sancho (17056) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @07:52PM (#45665763) Homepage

    Back around the dot-com boom, lots of really good deals (re: obvious mistakes, like a 17" monitor for $50) would show up on e-commerce sites. These deals would get passed around, orders would skyrocket, the company would void the orders, and people would whine and moan about the company not holding up their end of the bargain. Eventually, terms of use began including this reserved right to void orders due to pricing mistakes, even if that right needn't be explicitly reserved.

    Now a company has made a mistake further into the interaction with their customer--a mistake in delivery. I wonder if we will start to see terms of use/purchase including an obligation to return erroneous deliveries.

    I genuinely think that the demarcation of responsibility should be after the item is shipped. You shouldn't place an onus, however small, on a customer to correct your mistake. In a more perfect world, people would be willing to take on such a slight burden as shipping an item back. However, the world is an imperfect place. Screws fall out all the time. We don't always treat others as we would like to be treated, whether due to laziness or greed.

  • by Dega704 (1454673) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @07:54PM (#45665781)
    I didn't realize that it was such a soul-crushing, career destroying endeavor to slap a return label on something and drop it off; or to make a 5-minute phone call to arrange a pickup at a convenient time, which it sounds like Zawi was willing to do. I'm sorry but you really seem to be grasping at straws.
  • Re:Keep it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @08:07PM (#45665899) Homepage

    The company should just admit they made a mistake and politely request a return...

    They did try that first. The customer (singular, that we know of, so far) failed to respond.

    [Games blog Dark Zero] published a "final notice" letter sent to one [emphasis mine] Zavvi customer who had originally ordered a copy of the platform game Tearaway.

    "As you are aware, as a result of a technical error, you were not sent Tearaway (priced at approximately £19.99) and instead were sent a PS Vita (priced at approximately £169.99). This was an error on our part and we apologise for any inconvenience this has caused you," it said.
    Tearaway Affected customers had only expected to receive the game Tearaway

    "We have tried to contact you on numerous occasions [emphasis mine] to give you the opportunity to return this item to us (at our cost and no inconvenience to yourself), but to date you have refused to do so.

    At this point I'd say the company are reasonable in assuming this guy just wants to keep the Vita despite having no claim to it.

  • by ewhenn (647989) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @08:14PM (#45665995)
    Yeah, it is a big deal. I work two jobs, 65-70 hours a week. The little spare time I have is *very* precious to me. Also, I usually get my mail when I get home from work... at 1 AM. Why the hell should I have to take off of work and lose pay or give them some of my free time because they screwed up? If they're willing to pick it up at my convenience, they can stop by at 2 AM on Sunday morning, otherwise they can F off.
  • by Sancho (17056) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @08:19PM (#45666059) Homepage

    Sigh

    Oh how horrible for you.

    First, this is not "unsolicited merchandise", because you did order something. So it's not a "gift" (as it would be if it were truly "unsolicited").

    Is this so clear-cut? The law says it is: "merchandise mailed without the prior expressed request or consent of the recipient." It does not seem to differentiate mistakes. That is, none of these people ordered a Vita bundle--they ordered something different. Therefore the merchandise of a Vita bundle was mailed without prior request or consent. What was requested was a particular game.

    Unless there is prior case law, I don't think anyone can really say whether the particular order (or an identical one taking place in the US) would qualify as "mailed without prior expressed request."

    I'm referencing http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title39/html/USCODE-2011-title39-partIV-chap30-sec3009.htm [gpo.gov] which doesn't have any obligation to the recipient--and expressly says so: "Any merchandise mailed in violation of subsection (a) of this section, or within the exceptions contained therein, may be treated as a gift by the recipient, who shall have the right to retain, use, discard, or dispose of it in any manner he sees fit without any obligation whatsoever to the sender"

    Nothing in this code indicates that you can charge for storage should you return the item, either.

    Is there a different law I'm unfamiliar with that you're referring to?

  • by purplie (610402) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @08:35PM (#45666213)
    No. I bill my time at $200 per hour. Someone wants me to spend half an hour fixing their logistics error, for free? And involuntarily?
  • Re:Jackpot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bobbied (2522392) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @08:35PM (#45666217)

    I'd keep it.

    But what is the *right* thing to do? Legal issues aside, if somebody sends me something by mistake, then asks for it back, they are getting it back because that's what I would want them to do if I sent them something by mistake.

  • Re:Jackpot (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @08:36PM (#45666231)
    It is NOT false. A mistake on an order is not "unsolicited merchandise". You DID solicit something. Just not that.
  • by Belial6 (794905) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @08:58PM (#45666419)
    Of course it is considered as an unasked for gift. If it wasn't, the mail order scam of sending out unrequested product would never have gone away. The companies that forced the law into existence would have just switched to offering some low value product at cost and shipping some other product with ridiculous markup. Thus, completely skirting the law.

    I'm sorry Mr. Smith, we mistakenly sent you the $99.99 WHITE cheddar cheese log by mistake instead of the $6.99 YELLOW cheddar cheese log. Please return it immediately. Oh, it was eaten at your Christmas party? Just give us your credit card number and we can charge the extra $93.00 to your card.
  • Re:Jackpot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @09:28PM (#45666667)

    Just be a jerk about it : Offer to return it if they pay a $50 handling fee, given they inconvenienced you and no prior contract existed. Or they can come collect it if they can catch you at home during business hours. Or whatever. They'll probably just pay up if you only ask for a reasonable sum that's less than hassling you would cost.

  • Re:Jackpot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dahamma (304068) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @09:29PM (#45666675)

    Exactly. I never understood people who exploit obvious bugs/mistakes and then get all indignant when a company refuses to "honor" their exploit. It's just a complete lack of some basic moral compass.

    I'd imagine these sorts of people would also say "cool, I was owed $10 and accidentally got back $30 in change, my lucky day!" instead of "hey, looks like you gave me too much change, here, wouldn't want you to get in trouble!"

    Then again, there is only so far one can go. I was once delivered a different dresser from one I ordered (one that cost about 3x and was much nicer in every way). I called and left two messages explaining this, but never got a response. Fine with me!

  • Re:Jackpot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EdIII (1114411) on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @11:11PM (#45667303)

    I don't have a problem with returning it. That's the spirit of the golden rule anyways.

    I've had these issues before and while some actually expected me to pay for shipping, most were happy enough to provide a shipping label.

    Takes 5 minutes to drop the package off the next time I'm at lunch.

    Unless it really does place an undue burden upon you to return it, I don't even see how this is an ethics issue up for debate.

  • Re:Jackpot (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @11:39PM (#45667463)

    Not all of us live next door to a post office. It would be a burden to have to waste my time walking all the way down to one and pay out of my own pocket in order to rectify their mistake.

    The golden rule still applies. If I were careless enough to send someone the wrong thing, I would not expect to get it back and I would not hold anyone responsible. THAT is ethical.

  • Re:Jackpot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by canadian_right (410687) <alexander.russell@telus.net> on Wednesday December 11, 2013 @11:45PM (#45667491) Homepage

    If it seems like an honest mistake, I send it back. I've been sent the wrong order by amazon twice, and I contact them, arrange to get paid for shipping and send it back. My personal honesty and integrity are more important than a few dollars.

    If I'm sent something out of the blue I did not order with an invoice I will keep it and ignore the invoice as this is a scam.

    I was shocked that people would post in public that they are dishonest - and brag about it.

    Cultivate virtue for a better life, and a better world.

  • Re:Jackpot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sumdumass (711423) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @02:26AM (#45668191) Journal

    Virtue is not about their loss, it is about your morals, honesty and intehrity.

    I do not know you so it doesn't matter to me. But you essentially just said as long as you can justify it. It makes a moving target so to speak. It sends the message that i can trust you as long as i do not leave anything valuable or important out. I'm sure you have an expectation of higher regard then that.

    However, i am not sure i can disagree with your actions given the circumstances. I will bet quite a few others would do the same. So i have to ask, suppose you purchased something locally snd the clerk gave you to much change, what would you do?

  • Re:Jackpot (Score:5, Insightful)

    by XcepticZP (1331217) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @09:56AM (#45669831)

    Given all that, I care little for their ~540 euros loss. Had it been a smaller store, I would certainly have pointed the mistake (but even then, I might not have sent the product back, unless it was a very small shop).

    See, there's your problem right there. Just because they have lots of money, doesn't mean it's okay for you to defraud them. I blame a basic misunderstanding of Robin Hood and the lessons it tried to put forward that a lot of people completely miss. You need to address your own internal biases. How would you feel if you accidentally gave a homeless man a hundred dollar bill instead of a dollar bill, and he decided to keep it because "he cares little for your $100 loss" due to him thinking you make more money than him. What if you had dropped it by accident, and he picked it up without telling you about it? These are all questions you need to ask yourself if you want to be a moral human being. Stealing is wrong, no matter how much you think the other guy deserves his possessions or not. If you can't have an absolute set of morals, then you're just an opportunistic jack ass, and what little morals you do have are worth nothing.

  • Re:Jackpot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Reapy (688651) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @10:35AM (#45670123)

    Look what your honor has gotten you, Ned Stark.

  • Re:Jackpot (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sprouticus (1503545) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @11:07AM (#45670441)

    The problem with your action model is that it is a net negative for you, and a net positive for them. You give them $$ for free in the form of time and energy spent calling, arraging the return, and probably time getting to the place for the drop off. I value my time far to much to do this for the vast majority of companies. Especially large companies. MAYBE if it is a local or small business I have a relationship with I will.

    If a company who makes such a mistake is willing to either credit me for my time or literally send someone to my house to pick it up and not have me fill out paperwork, then I would happily return it. Otherwise they are SoL. I am not their bitch, I am not their mommy to fix their mistakes. I will not expend effort to fix their mistakes. I will not notify them, fill out RMA forms, go to a FexEx or UPS store to send it, etc.

    That is not an ethical issue, it is an economic one.

    Examples:

    If I see someone drop $20 on the street, I will pick it up and give it back to them.
    If I am at my favorite bar or restaraunt and I find $20 on the ground I will give it to management (the owner might ask the management and if he/she does the place I like will stay open longer, thus value for me).
    If I am walking down the street and there is $20 lying on the ground and noone is in the area, I am NOT going to go to a police station, report it lost, fill out the forms, and come back weeks later. If it was $20,000 I might but not for $20.

    NOTE: I did once return a drivers license I found near my house, went out of my way for 30 minutes. I think the reason was simple empathy. It was super easy, I had an address, and I empathized with someone losing their license.

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