back to article Three used cheap deal to lure me into buying expensive slab, chap tells ASA

UK mobile network Three has been rapped for touting a tablet computer that customers couldn't actually buy – and then, having got the interested punters on the phone, tried flogging them a more expensive slab instead. One outraged man told the advertising watchdog that an ad on Three's website stated that the operator's online …


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  1. HMB

    It's a bit naughty this. I'm going to have to watch out that I don't buy things that I don't want when I talk to them next.

    Hang on a minute... I often avoid buying things I don't want! Go me!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It's more than just naughty...

      ...if the allegation is true, it's fraud. The managers responsible should go to jail.

      But they won't, illegal corporate activity (be that tax evasion, financial fraud or whatever) is actively encouraged in the UK. It's how MPs fill their pockets. This is why all the regulators (Ofcom, ICO, TPS, MPS, ASA, NAO etc) are all a total waste of time. Their job is not to regulate anything, merely to provide a veneer of respectability.

      The only recourse I can see for the punter would be to reject the phone contract due to breach, but Three might have had the contract written in such a way wiggle out of that.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Professor Clifton Shallot

        Re: It's more than just naughty...

        I think you may have the wrong end of the stick - there's no indication the punter has bought anything, never mind something that wasn't what he was expecting to buy or at the price he was expecting to pay.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It's more than just naughty...

          No, I think you have the wrong end.

          It's the 21st century, 3 can't get their back-end stock levels to add up?


          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: It's more than just naughty...

            Early in the 21st century, PC World couldn't. I went to the checkout to be told a laptop wasn't in stock, and eventually took the manager to show him the pile under the display counter. After a little internal debate they discovered that they could actually sell me one despite the stock being zero.

    2. jonathanb Silver badge

      That's not the point.

      You phone up someone expecting to be able to buy a super-cheap fondleslab. When they tell you that you can't have a super-cheap slab and try and sell you an expensive one instead, it is very annoying, and a waste of your time.

      1. Professor Clifton Shallot

        @ jonathanb

        Yes, it's very annoying and clearly something they should not have been doing (hence the ineffectual slap on the wrist), but it isn't fraud (hence the lack of anything more than the ineffectual slap on the wrist).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @ jonathanb

          Unless the original was never available in the first place, in which case is *IS* a fraud.

          "No stock on-line, please *TRY* 0800... or your local 3 store"

          Simple, clear and no attempt to mislead. But I guess the UK punter is getting used to false advertising ("unlimited Internet" anyone?) and the ASA does not care.

      2. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        > it is very annoying, and a waste of your time.

        So you lose a few minutes during which you can't watch Desperate Chickens or Games of Thrones.

        Big deal.

    3. LarsG


      Too good to be true?

      It usually is.

    4. PeterM42

      Shouldn't buy from Three anyway

      The coverage is crap because they don't have 2G backup.

      The customer service matches the coverage.

  2. Whitter

    Why bother?

    In "The Age of Austerity", do we really need any toothless (or muzzled) regulators?

    1. Ian Bush

      Re: Why bother?

      'In "The Age of Austerity", do we really need any toothless (or muzzled) regulators?'

      Of course we do! Regulation inhibits growth!! Under no circumstances should we regulate, that's anti-business!!! Your're not one of these red commie socialists, are you ?!!!!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why bother?

        "'In "The Age of Austerity", do we really need any toothless (or muzzled) regulators?'

        Of course we do! Regulation inhibits growth!! Under no circumstances should we regulate, that's anti-business!!! Your're not one of these red commie socialists, are you ?!!!!"

        Unfortunately is is exactley how people think. Theri raised that way, brain washed from an early age, just like religious nut cases and the tories.

        And we wonder why people say this country is going to pot.

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          Re: Why bother?

          > And we wonder why people say this country is going to pot.

          If you want Pol Pot and socialism, you know where you can find it.

          Regulate away. Can't find a job?Get in the dole. Because getting a job is also a matter of regulation.

          1. Cubical Drone

            Re: Why bother?

            @Destroy All Monsters

            Not sure how it is working out in the UK, but in the US we have been trying the "let business run around and do whatever they want" for quite a while now and it does not seem to be the panacea that was promised.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Why bother?

      It's not a regulator. It's a trade association with a marketing arm.

  3. GeorgeTuk

    They may be toothless...

    ...but may be if they got the information out there in the press (wider than El Reg) that would give them some sway to make a change.

    And with AC above it's more serious than it appears!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: They may be toothless...

      Who says it's more serious that it appears? It could be a lot LESS serious. Maybe if it was reported this way:-

      A man sees an advert for something cheap. Unfortunately it was REALLY cheap, very popular and they've all sold out from the outlet he chooses as his first option. He is directed to another purchasing option and unfortunately there's none there either. However, the helpful staff offer the next best solution, although the product offered is much better specced and therefore more expensive. He declines that offer, and chooses not to follow up on his third option of looking in one of the many many bricks and mortar outlets, but does choose instead to complain about the helpful staff who tried to help him.

      1. Frumious Bandersnatch

        Re: They may be toothless...

        Well that's maybe one way of looking at it, AC. For another, look up "bait and switch"—it's illegal. Actually, I'll save you the bother of looking it up ... from wikipedia:

        Bait-and-switch is a form of fraud used in retail sales but also employed in other contexts. First, customers are "baited" by merchants' advertising products or services at a low price, but when customers visit the store, they discover that the advertised goods are not available, or the customers are pressured by sales people to consider similar, but higher priced items ("switching").


        In England and Wales it is banned under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.[1] Breaking this law can result in a criminal prosecution, an unlimited fine and two years in jail.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    we need ueber-ASAs

    and we need them now! They shall come down on ASAs, ICOs, and such toothless predator, like a brick of tonnes (or something), and they shall punish them with threatening letters, and they shall instigate fear in them and the taxpayer shall pay.

  5. taxman


    Sorry 3, computer says 'No'.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It reminds me of Ceefax holidays!

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    seriously, this isnt fraud what happened to being adults able to make our own decisions, so i try and buy something cheap from multiple sources and its sold out however they try and sell me something better but admittedly more expensive, it doesnt preclude me saying NO THANKs its not what i was after.

    why is that we seem to want to be molly coddled so much, no one forces you buy these things , you have the choice to say NO and walk away.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      But people like to play the victim. If it's not radioactivity or genetically engineered food or the Koch Brothers, it's the expensive fondleslab.

      They then proceed to vote the bandits into office. Go figure.

    2. DrXym

      Bait and switch is banned by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008

      Penalties can include fines and imprisonment but obviously the charge would have to be proven and there are various defences.

  8. Andrew Jones 2

    I see - so it was actually illegal then when Freeview first launched and walking into Comet to buy a freeview box (which they did actually have in stock) customers were persuaded that it would suit everyone much better if they left the store with a sky contract instead?

    And when freesat (not the sky version) launched, Comet told people they needed a new dish - even though I protested that I already had a sky minidish and I was happy to use that and they said "it uses different frequencies and you cannot just re-use an existing sky dish" and I told them they were lying - they then of course feigned total innocence - but just as I was leaving I heard them using the same line on another potential customer.

    Not exactly bait and switch (as they had the product in stock) - but they certainly had no intention of actually selling me what I wanted.

  9. FutureShock999

    Missing Key Data...

    The key piece of data is, really, how MANY cheap fondleslabs did they ever really have in stock? If it was 0, or 10, or even 50, it sounds like bait and switch.

    If they had a few hundred or more, and they sold those out...then it really seems like a case of "Tough Luck Charlie", they sold out, and this is what they had left.

    But without knowing the amount in stock and on order, it is impossible to say if it was intentional.

    1. Mr Flibble

      Re: Missing Key Data...

      Indeed. “While stocks last” and “subject to availability” are Useful Phrases for them to use.

      That said, charging the difference in price between the usual price of the one which was on offer and what's actually (now) available would not be entirely unreasonable (although it might not fit in with trying to offload old stock, if that's what they were doing). I would still expect some (quite reasonably) not to take them up on that, though.

  10. D@v3

    which fondleslabs?

    anybody know what the devices were that were 'on offer' and what he was 'up-selled' to?

    Just curious as there is a bit of a difference between. 'Sorry sir, we have no nexus7's how about a nexus10'


    'we are sooo sorry sir, but we appear to have run out of the landfill android tablets that we had on offer, but we have plenty of these 64gb iPads knocking about

  11. Jerky Jerk face

    Fuss over nothing.

    Do you think everyone has an infinite supply of everything all the time?

    Me "hello, I want to buy a cheap slab"

    them "Hi Sir, we have run out im sorry, would you like to buy one of the more expensive ones we do have in stock?"

    me "no thanks i just wanted the good value cheap one, bye"

    them "okay sir, no problem, laters geezer"

  12. Spleen

    Can people stop saying "it's against the law" as if it means 3 are automatically in the wrong.

    It's quite clear that it's a daft, unenforceable law, like most laws that end in "2008" or any other number associated with the Blair regime. How do you prove that the company was deliberately engaged in a bait-and-switch, and not just engaging in perfectly normal selling practices? I am a salesman, you have rung the sales line, my job is to sell you something. If I haven't got what you want then I am practically obliged to earn my salary by saying "what about this"?

    It is only a bait-and-switch if 3 never had any of the advertised product in the first place. I can't see that ever being proved in court.

  13. Anomalous Cowshed

    This is very common these days

    Companies claim that their "web site" has run out of stock.

    How can a web site run out of stock? Indeed how can a web site have stock to begin with? And why should people have to go around phoning "another department" to see if they have stock? If someone is selling goods, surely that means you don't have to start phoning his entire family or all his employees just in case they are holding back on some stock?

    1. David Hicklin Bronze badge

      Re: This is very common these days

      I think you will find that the website is linked to a bricks+mortar distribution back-end somewhere, and the shelf space where the widget you want is empty.

      Or (and this is a guess as I am not in this business) as many products are dispatched direct from the manufacturer these days , the web site has sold all it's call off orders

  14. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    I don't think the ASA is completely toothless. Although I believe it's a voluntary code, which the industry joined in order to avoid regulation.

    Anyway, Iooked this up the other day for some reason, and they normally start by telling people off a bit. If they can be bothered to wake up from their afternoon naps. Maybe a slappy-wristy-lettery-wettery-thingy.

    But repeat offenders do eventually get put onto the naughty step. Which is that they have to have their adverts pre-vetted by the ASA. This happened to FCUK (the ones too stupid to spell fuck) a while back.

    There is a final sanction, which I believe they have used - but probably not often. Where they tell the advertising networks that you are persona non grata, and then they won't carry your adverts any more. The ad sellers and networks are supposed to keep up with the ASA's list of banned adverts and people on the naughty step - and refuse to accept them.

  15. John Brown (no body) Silver badge


    "Three argued that when the website ran out of stock it was standard practice to point customers to the retail department's hotline"

    What? Are they serious? How does a "website" have stock which it can run out of which the people in the telesales room can still get access to? Are they really claiming to be wasting shareholders money by running two separate stock systems, two separate ordering systems and two separate payment and distribution systems to sell the same special offer?

    Or is someone at 3 lying?

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