PC World found guilty of “mis-selling”

United Kingdom

A Yorkshire court found PC World guilty under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 of mis-selling computer equipment. Trading Standards had brought the prosecution because buyers of “new” computer equipment from a Yorkshire branch of PC World had discovered that the equipment was, in fact, second hand. The two examples given in the press were of a laptop and an Apple CDRW, both of which were sold as “new”, but were actually reconditioned or returns.

Despite protestations from PC World that the mis-selling had occurred as a result of “honest mistakes” caused by its computer system and individual errors, the court fined the company £5,500, awarded its wronged customers over £2000 each in compensation, and ordered the company to pay £28,000 in prosecution costs. The Judge also attacked PC World’s staff training, which was insufficient to prevent such mistakes happening.

The case shows that retail businesses must be careful when describing goods for sale, in particular where goods are ex-display, reconditioned goods, or returns. Any description of goods given must be accurate and not misleading. It also shows that, if criminal proceedings are brought by Trading Standards, the prosecution costs could far outweigh any fine ordered by the court. In this case the costs were 500% more than the fine.

This article first appeared in our Technology Annual Review, March 2006. To view this publication, please click here to open in a new window.