Two customer complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority over offers by Dell in October and November have been upheld, ElectricNews.Net has learned.
In October 2001 Dell was advertising a promotion whereby the company was giving away a free Palm m100 PDA with the purchase of an Inspiron 4100 laptop.
However, one complainant who purchased a laptop and discovered no Palm PDA, contacted Dell on 25 October 2001 and was told the Palm m100 was out of stock and had been for a week. All of this occurred on the same day a brochure was enclosed in the Irish Independent advertising the free Palm device. The complainant considered this to be "false advertising."
In its defence, Dell said that the availability of the offer was on a "whilst stocks last" basis and the company misjudged how many PDAs it would sell, leaving it unable to provide them on a free basis. The company said that by 25 October it had sold more PDAs than it had anticipated, but the brochures which advertised them had been printed well in advance of when they were expected to appear in the newspaper. Dell also pointed out that in this case its supply estimate was only short by six days.
The ASA ruled that the Code of Advertising Standards requires that while an advertisement should not mislead by inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise, it also requires advertisers to be in a position to meet any reasonable demand created by their advertising.
It is the responsibility of advertisers to withdraw or amend ads if product become unavailable, and in this particular circumstance "the promotional offer should not have been included in the brochure circulated on that date," the ASA ruled, and decided that the complaint be upheld in part.
The second complaint arose from an offer in Dell's October and November catalogues featuring an Inspiron 2500 notebook including an integrated TouchPad and TrackStick and a free Palm organiser. When a complainant received the Inspiron Notebook, there was no TrackStick or Palm device included.
Dell informed the complainant that there was an error in the catalogue and that the Inspiron offer did not include the TrackStick and that the Palm organiser was only available "while stocks last."
Moreover, the company's November catalogue offered an Inspiron 4100 notebook which included Windows XP Professional. That information later turned out to be inaccurate, when a complainant contacted Dell to question the offer and learned that the laptop in question did not in fact come with the Windows XP Professional software.
In its defence for these incidents, Dell acknowledged the inclusion of the TrackStick as a "genuine error" on its part and took steps to ensure that future marketing material would have this error removed, and offered a free service upgrade as a gesture of goodwill for the mistake.
In relation to Windows XP Professional not being available with the notebooks, Dell said that it was assured that the notebooks would be validated to work with XP by 01 August, when the catalogues were due to drop.
Subsequently, the company learned from its engineering department that there would be a delay of six weeks in the validation process and offered customers a choice of Windows Millennium edition if they preferred not to wait six weeks.
The ASA ruled that the complaint be upheld. The Complaints Committee acknowledged that the incorrect information contained in the catalogues resulted from internal errors, nevertheless, it concluded that the code had been contravened.
A spokesperson for Dell said, "Dell deeply regrets any inaccuracies printed in the Dell Ireland catalogues." She continued, "we strive to ensure that all our promotional material is 100 percent accurate at all times. We sincerely regret the confusion these errors caused to some of our customers. At no time was it our intention to mislead."