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8 May 2013

Recently I received a grocery catalogue and as usual read my way through – to discover an offer that appealed to me. I was offered two bags of cat biscuits by a manufacturer whose products I usually buy in a different brand. The two bags were offered at a slightly lower price for the duo but more attractive still was the offer of a cute tin with cat pictures on it. If I accepted the offer I would get cat biscuits that I needed to buy, but I’d get the bonus of an attractive tin as well. So I arranged for a friend to go into the shop and pick up cat biscuits plus tin and drop them off to me. I was annoyed to receive the cat biscuits, but not the bonus tin.

Why? Because the shop had run out and that was just too bad because the catalogue clearly stated that the tins would be supplied to buyers of the two bags – “While stocks last.” I phoned the shop to clarify that. This offer had been intended to continue for a week of seven days. How long had the bonus tins been given away? Interesting answer. They’d run out midway through day three. Hang on, the makers know that cat biscuits have a very large sale in New Zealand. They know that variations of their brand sell very well. They know that the offer of a free tin with attractively depicted cats on it will boost sales still further. Why then, would they supply only sufficient tins to cover less than half the promotion week?

And the answer may be that, while putting in the phrase “While stocks last” may make it legal, could it be that the cat biscuit manufacturer knew more than this? That they knew the tins would run out, but that people wouldn’t know this had happened until they got to the checkout, and that most people would then be too embarrassed to say, “no tin, no sale?”.Had I been the one to buy I probably would have. It wasn’t the slightly lower price for two bags that attracted me to see if my cat would like a new type of cat biscuit. It was the tin. Just how many people, attracted by this offer, accepted it, and didn’t receive the bonus item for which they’d bought the original units?

And to dig a bit deeper into this phrase,“While stocks last”.In my opinion it’s a come-on which has very little clarity. “While stocks last” depends on how much of the stock was supplied in the first place. As an ordinary consumer, an offer that says this, to me should mean that if the offer lasts a week, I’d expect the bonus item to be available into the second to last day. It’s fair enough if the tins were on offer from first thing on Monday and ran out around midday Saturday, or even late on Friday evening, but I feel that for it to be a genuine offer the tins should either be available for most of that promotion week OR the catalogue should have said that they would be a bonus offer “To the first X number of customers.”

What the weaseling phrase “While stocks last” does, is hold out an offer while committing to nothing more than – as an extreme example-  a bonus item to the first customer. After which “stocks have run out”.The shop is not to blame, and they were apologetic, but they were given an allocation of bonus items and when they ran out, that was it. But the phrase is a way to persuade customers to buy an item they might not otherwise buy while at the same time cutting the costs that would eventuate if they had supplied sufficient tins for every customer who met the criteria to receive one. It may be legal, but in effect you’ve been persuaded to buy something by an offer that more than half of you were never going to receive. Politely, legally, but unfairly, you’ve been had!

How can you get around this? When a bonus item under the “While stocks last” system runs out, the shop could put up a sign noting this against the items you have to buy to obtain your bonus item. If they don’t you could simply tell the checkout operator when you arrive with your groceries, that you feel the manufacturer making the offer has not dealt fairly with you, and reject the items you have to buy to obtain the no-longer-in-stock bonus. You can consider twice in future any item that that manufacturer sells. Or you could go to the fountainhead of this phrase, and ask the government to clarify it. So that “while stocks last” becomes “the first X number of purchasers will receive…” That way customers-  and shops – know exactly where they stand. And manufacturers do not find they have produced either far too few or far too many of the bonus item. But as it stands, the phrase is a way to legally trick customers into buying products, and I resent it, both for me, and for all those other people out there who wanted a pretty tin and were disappointed. It’s just not good enough!



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