For flailing book retailers, the new Harry Potter tome
is like a kiss of life. Potter nerds dressed up in academic gowns
and wizard hats queuing up around the block to hand over Real Cash
Money. The RRP for the book is $45 (outrageous!), but you don't
have to walk far to get a cheaper price. Competition is hot for the
It seems Big W might have taken the game a bit far. It
advertised the book for $15 for one day only, with the usual
'while stocks last' type qualification. According to social
media some stores had only a box or two of books and sold out soon
after opening on said sale day. Hell has no fury like a Potter fan
robbed of a cheap read. Big W's Facebook page quickly filled
with complaints. News coverage followed.
It's against the law to advertise Harry Potter books (or any
other goods or services) at a particular price unless you have
reasonable supplies available for a reasonable period. It's
called bait advertising and it can be prosecuted as an offence
under the Australian Consumer Law. The maximum penalty is $1.1M per
Whether Big W is headed for Azkaban (or at least a hefty fine)
will depend on whether its supplies were reasonable having regard
to the nature of the market for the Harry Potter book and the
nature of the ad. A 'while stocks last' type qualification
isn't a strong defence. You still have to think about consumer
expectations for that kind of product.
Maybe people would expect a risk of not snapping up the latest
Harry Potter on day 1 of its release, especially if it's
heavily discounted. But if Facebook is right (when is it wrong?),
then some stores stocked less than 50 books. A risky play by Big W.
The negative press and potential ACCC investigation might quickly
outweigh the upside of their magical marketing tactic.
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