Mistakes in Website Prices – Consumer Items

A Quebec court has recently held that Costco was not bound to sell a computer to a consumer for $2.00, as advertised on its web site. Although the Consumer Protection Act says that an ad to a consumer is an offer, the court (Cour du Québec) held that online sales are different.

Here’s an article about the decision.

I presume the decision would be similar in common-law Canada. Is it not general law that an ad on a website is considered an invitation to treat, rather than an offer that can be accepted by anyone in the world? Certainly the Electronic Communications Convention of UNCITRAL says so, in article 11. My recollection is that delegates from civil law countries did not want to use the common-law terminology of ‘invitation to treat’, but they were comfortable with ‘invitation to make offers’. Our domestic law is not necessarily the same as the Convention’s language, but the legal analysis of the impact the Convention would have on Canadian common law (ULCC 2008) did not raise concerns on that point, as I recall (see para [32]).

So: any concerns on your part?

Here’s an article about the common-law situation that suggests that “it depends” …. But some cases are presumably easier than others.

(In the Quebec situation, surely it took a good deal of nerve to go to court to try to enforce such an obvious error (that, and a no-costs-if-you-lose rule, probably.))


  1. Shawn Comeau-Gallimore

    Without being much of an expert – would this fall under the more well known scenarios of “snapping up the offer” in the common law, or cases of mistaken tenders and bids where construction companies accidently produce unintentionally low bids due to their own unilateral error?

    For the civil law minded – in the original decision (http://canlii.ca/t/ghhx3) – there appears to be a modest costs award at paragraph 50 – “[50] CONDAMNE le demandeur à payer à la défenderesse la somme de 206 $ pour les frais judiciaires de la contestation.”. The case looks interesting as well because both the provisions for mistake under the Quebec Civil Code (which go back to older French civil law) and the modern consumer legislation are both discussed.

    Prof. Catherine MacMillan has written extensively on how the civil law doctrine in translation originally influenced the doctrine of mistake in English law (in a book published in 2010).

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