Incomplete Prices on the Internet

This article will concisely explore the legal consequences of incorrect or incomplete prices on the Internet. The primary question will be if and what you have to pay when the seller has an incorrect or incomplete price presented on his website.

It often happens that vendors only mention the net price of the object – i.e. without VAT. When you later get the invoice, “all of sudden” the price has now been increased with VAT, handling & postage, and insurance or maybe even other items not previously mentioned. The price then turns out to be much more expensive than competing prices. This is neither fair nor legal. Such pricing clearly violates the rule in §1 PrAnV, stating that no vendor may advertise incomplete prices for the consumer. In commerce, one should not understand “advertising” too narrowly. Not only the poster in a storefront but any communication inducing you to buy, qualifies as “advertising” in the realm of unfair competition law. The non-professional customer must be confronted with “all-inclusive” prices. In other words, the end price consists of the net price, VAT, costs for handling and shipping, any other fees. When purchasing on the Internet, before you make the contract by clicking the “buy now” button, the seller has to show you all the components of the price on a separate screen.

Hint:

When purchasing in the “www”, it is best to make a screenshot of the summary of sales. Larger companies will usually send you a confirming eMail with all the details of the purchase. In any case, keep both.

What do you think is the validity of the contract? Do you have to pay the first mentioned price that was lower or the later mentioned higher price? Well, no contract has been closed because there is a dissent or a lack of agreement amongst the contractual parties. The basic requirement of each and every contract requires that both parties have agreed on the essential elements of contract (“what is to be exchanged” and “at what price”). This leads us then to the result: you do not have to pay and the company selling cannot successfully sue you in court for performance. When in the mean time your order arrives, send it back – without postage or in German “unfrei versenden”.

Let us further suppose, the Internet dealer showed everything but the shipping costs on the last screen before you closed the contract. In his later bill, you then notice these extra costs and object to these. This salesperson then “excuses” himself that these costs are to be paid because they are in his standard terms and conditions. This “excuse” for his forgetfulness does not count!

Don’t forget that you have a 14-day right to countermand any remote purchase – like buying something on the Internet.

N.B.when purchasing for your business

This article does not apply for a company buying products. When businesses are the customer, you will often see up to three “prices” (net price, VAT, gross price).

You recently booked a very cheap flight on the Internet only to learn later that the airport fees were not included in the big price on the poster but only in a footnote. Generally, such pricing is conform with the Unfair Competition Act (Gesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb). However, the previously mentioned possibility to countermand does not apply to services remotely preformed. Other such services are, for instance, reserving hotel rooms, concert tickets and similar things.

What can you do about the grossly wrong pricing when this happens in this manner? Complain to a consumer protection organization. They have the task of protecting consumer’s interests against those of businesses. The consumer centers in the 16 German federal states offer advice and information on issues of consumer protection, help with legal problems and represent the interests of consumers at the federal state level. For information and advice contact the consumer center in your federal state.

A prominent example for this topic that led to a big rumble among consumers was with court case on tariffs for cell phones:

“Prepaid Valid without Charging Cell Phone”.