Some customers who believed they picked up dirt-cheap furniture deals in a Harvey Norman online sale say extra payments due to be deducted from their accounts have shot up.
The debacle surrounding the launch of Harvey Norman's "New Zealand's Biggest Retail Sale" intensified yesterday when the company confirmed it would not honour the deals.
Hundreds of super-cheap online deals on pricey furniture products were taken up between midnight and 8am on Thursday.
The near-330 people who took up the deals were later advised by email that the prices were the result of a "genuine error".
"All sales made during this period cannot be honoured," Harvey Norman wrote. "Our website terms and conditions state that we may accept or reject any offer to purchase made by you and that we have the right to correct any errors."
Affected customers have all been offered a refund and $100 voucher.
But the Weekend Herald has learned of at least two customers who claim pending internet bank transaction amounts for their purchases have jumped dramatically from the price they agreed to pay.
Auckland woman Charlotte Butcher said she thought she had paid $159 for her lounge suite but then noticed the electronic charge of $1359. By yesterday the figure was $1699.
"So I don't know if that's the original price or what, I don't know what's happening. It's just bizarre."
Harvey Norman did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.
However, Consumer New Zealand boss Sue Chetwin said she hadn't heard of this happening before and urged any affected customers to contact their banks immediately.
"That is bizarre. That just doesn't sound right to me. If you want to pay for something at a certain price then it shouldn't be that a shop should increase that price."
A concerned Waikato woman contacted her bank, which confirmed Harvey Norman had not accepted the transaction so "the funds are still floating in space somewhere".
"If Harvey Norman doesn't accept the payment after seven days, the transaction will be cancelled and the money will reappear in my account."
Despite Harvey Norman's refusal to honour the sales, a Christchurch customer is refusing to back down.
She believed the promotion was on a first-in, first-serve basis because of material which stated "special pricing has been applied to this product" in the terms and conditions.
Auckland barrister Patrick McGrath said once the money had been exchanged it was a binding contract.
He suggested those affected could either complain to the Commerce Commission or pool their resources and issue joint court proceedings.
Ms Chetwin said the retail giant needed to front up. "They are on thin ice saying they have made a mistake and that they are going to get away with giving customers a $100 voucher and refund ... The mistake went on for eight hours.
"I think this is a Fair Trading [Act] issue."
Firm's response risks more trouble, says brand expert
Harvey Norman's brand will be weakened by its pricing glitch, a brand expert believes. Waikato University associate professor of strategic brand management Carolyn Costley says the company needs to offer a better sweetener than a voucher and refund.
"They really need to do something more than that in order to retain trust and retain any respect and reputation. [The sale campaign] sounds like something that was very well planned and they should have had that ad copy proofed well in advance. So given all of that there's really no excuse for those prices going up wrong.
"In terms of the brand image they are suffering dilution, it's being weakened. So it's not only the fact of the wrong prices being posted, its the way they've responded to it. In a competitive environment brand reputation is very important. It takes longer to build a favourable reputation than to damage one ... I think they either need to suck it up and go ahead and sell it to those people ... or do better than a $100 voucher. That almost feels like a slap in the face [as opposed to] a really sincere apology.
"If I was Harvey Norman I would be very nervous.
"I would think, based on my expertise, that if you post a sale on your website online and you find out there's a price error there's no excuse for not getting that changed really quickly."