André, who has used Macs for considerably longer than I, told me 6 or 7 years ago that Apple outside the US is just a sales organisation with none of its parent’s culture. I think recent events demonstrate the continuing the truth of that. Incidentally, as I mentioned before, I’m name-checked in his book.
Let’s take a short diversion to consider why I buy Apple products rather than the (considerably cheaper) alternatives. It is because I value the time I would otherwise waste getting everything to work and carry on working. It still surprises me, every time I get a new Apple product, that I can just plug it in (or click it) and use it without spending hours clicking next, fiddling with settings, filling registration forms, reading manuals, etc. They are, in general, no hassle.
This week’s experience has been a lot of hassle. Having specified a MacBook Pro and agreed to pay the asking price, I did not expect to spend 3 days negotiating whether or not I would receive it at that price. Negotiating is always stressful, and when it drags on over more than a day it starts to impact on your sleep.
I’m appalled that anyone in Apple thought that asking me to pay more than the agreed price was a good idea. Why would any customer agree to pay more for goods than they were asked to at the point of placing the order?
There is also a possibility that asking that question breaks the law. They would do well to review the EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive information pages (I am told that there are US laws to cover much of the same territory). The booklet (pdf) the EU provide for consumers says that a practice is misleading (and therefore illegal) if it:
- Contains false information and is therefore untruthful, or
- in any way, including overall presentation, deceives or is likely to deceive the average consumer, even if the information is correct
- causes or is likely to cause him to take a transactional decision that he would have otherwise not taken.
It seems to me that offering to sell a MacBook Pro at £1707.75 then saying after accepting the order that the real price is £1869.90 and that the difference must be paid might well tick the first and third of those boxes.
That said, I am prepared to take their explanation of a mistake in their store software at face value. However, given that there is no way for an outsider to objectively distinguish configuration incompetence from illegal sales strategy, it seems a bad business risk to call customers up and ask them for more money.
If you are operating a business and you find that you have agreed to provide some goods or service for the ‘wrong’ price, I think you only have two options which are safe from misinterpretation under the above EU directive (and foreign equivalents):
- Tell them nothing, and deliver the goods or service at the price you have agreed.
- Tell them you made a mistake, and that you are unilaterally canceling the order.
You absolutely must not offer to deliver the goods at the higher price, because that is indistinguishable from illegal sales practice.
Now, whether or not the terms of your agreement with your customer allow you to unilaterally cancel the order it is probably a bad idea. You will almost certainly lose that customer’s trust forever, and they will be inclined to spread their dissatisfaction around (much as I am here): what you fail to lose in tangible money you will lose in goodwill.
In this case, if I may treat it as a case study, Apple should have chosen option 1. The ‘missing’ money amounts to less than 9% of the ‘correct’ price, which means the transaction would still be profitable rather than loss-making (if they’re making less than 9% on a laptop order which includes £75 of software they’re doing it wrong).
If anyone from Apple is reading this and finds it useful, I would not object to a free Family Pack of Snow Leopard when it comes out. Hey, it’s worth mentioning