Twitter exploded on Friday, July 28 when a subsidiary of brick-and-mortar book giant Barnes & Noble reportedly canceled hundreds of orders for Beats by Dre headphones after a glitch in its system made the trendy headphones practically free.
Barnes & Noble College released a promo code “MACBEATS” this week that allowed shoppers to order a pair of Beats headphones — which normally retail for approximately $300 — for just the cost of shipping and handling, according to a consumer petition against Barnes & Noble.
After a number of orders for the headphones, Barnes & Noble College announced on Twitter that the promotion only applied to those who had purchased a MacBook, and that “unqualified” orders would be canceled.
We are cancelling any orders placed for Apple Beats that did not qualify for the promotion that was running. We apologize for the confusion!— Barnes&Noble College (@BNcollege) July 28, 2017
However, consumers are alleging that Barnes & Noble College did not qualify the promotion with any terms or conditions when they placed the orders for the headphones. Furthermore, some are saying that because they received an “Order Confirmation” for the headphones, Barnes & Noble College needs to honor the purchase or provide reimbursement for their mistake.
How can you cancel orders if it wasn't the consumers fault? We as buyers didn't do anything wrong— Bojan Atanasovski (@_BoJaN_gles) July 28, 2017
What Are Your Legal Rights in This Situation?
As Twitter users continue to rage over the cancelled headphone orders through the hashtag #MACBEATS, consumers are wondering what their legal rights are in this situation, and if Barnes & Noble College is legally obligated to ship the headphones to those who received an “Order Confirmation” under the Uniform Commercial Code.
It turns out that Barnes & Noble may have breached contract.
“When the consumer takes the item to the register to check out, the consumer providing payment is making an offer to purchase. If the mistake in price is caught at check out, the consumer cannot take advantage of the mistake,” explained Morgan & Morgan attorney John Yanchunis.
“What is different here is the consumer actually completed the purchase. Payment was accepted and the transaction was closed, thereby making the failure to deliver the headphones — or Barnes & Noble’s unilateral cancellation of the contract — a breach.”
UPDATE: Our attorneys spoke to a number of consumers and a number of them confirmed what we found: that the company had properly advertised the Beats headphones as a promotion in connection with the purchase of an Apple computer.
In connection with a glitch, consumers who used the promotional code ‘MACBEATS’ were directed to the next step to provide their information and payment card information and were charged without having to purchase the computer, thereby taking advantage of the glitch.
As the company never intended that the Beats headphones be available without the purchase of a computer, the circumstances would not support the necessary elements of a consumer act claim.
There have been several well-publicized cases based around this issue of consumer protection and breach of contract.
In 2016, Starbucks agreed to a $365,237 settlement after it was discovered that the company was misleadingly advertising the prices of two of its breakfast sandwiches as 25 cents lower than the actual price charged for the sandwiches in the state of California. The 25 cents per sandwiched added up to over $300K in reported overcharges for Starbucks, according to Law360.
KFC experienced its own coupon debacle in 2009, after Oprah promoted an online KFC coupon for a free grilled chicken meal on her popular talk show. News of the promotion quickly spread across the country, and due to the volume of customers using the coupon, some KFC franchises reportedly refused to honor the coupon. There was a subsequent class action lawsuit, and in 2011 KFC finally agreed to a $1.575 million settlement, according to Consumerist.