Kmart: $20 HDTV! No, Just Kidding.

If you saw that Kmart’s website had a listing for a $20 HDTV, would you try to buy it? Or would you assume it was a mistake? If you did try to buy it and they canceled your order, would you be mad?

According to ABC 2 News in Maryland, Kmart’s website recently featured “A Hitachi 46 inch High Definition TV clearance priced at just 20 dollars.” We tried to look up what the TV would normally cost (as it was not mentioned in the article) and couldn’t find any evidence that Hitachi had ever manufactured a “46 inch High Definition TV.” No matter, on with the story.

The mythical 46″ HDTV was reportedly purchased by a “number of shoppers” in Maryland (who contacted the local media when they didn’t get their $20 HDTV). from ABC 2:

But when they called to double check their orders, Pete Ahlfeld and his co workers got some bad news.

“I gave her my confirmation number, she basically told me we’re not gonna be sending you your tv.”

Turns out it was a misprint. A Sears/Kmart spokeswoman tells me “we apologize for any inconvenience. But under the terms of the website, we reserve the right to cancel an order in the event of a pricing error.”

While it was Kmart’s mistake, did they honestly think they deserved a TV for $20? Our advice? For a typo this obvious, don’t waste your time. —MEGHANN MARCO

$20 High Definition TV’s [ABC 2]


Edit Your Comment

  1. A_Random_Me says:

    It’s interesting to consider that quite a lot of people sign-up to sites they haven’t previously ordered from (even if they use the stores) when they spot thezse sorts of errors. I’m not sure how the opt-out laws work over there compared to the UK, or how similar the percentages are, but suddenly these companies have a whole lot of new customer details they can potentially send offers to…

    Even if they can’t contact most of them, and most of the ones they do don’t buy anything, there’s always a few extra sales to be gained. And you do happen to know that they’d like a new television.

    Just a thought is all.

  2. Type-E says:

    They might have typed $2000 into $20.00

  3. acambras says:

    Easy come, easy go.

  4. Bourque77 says:

    If they paid several hundred more for the tv than they should have would k-mart feel the same way about the obvious error?

  5. enm4r says:

    I don’t think they are legally obligated to honor that price. This happens frequently in various circles, and there are plenty of times the company has come out and cancelled orders and returned all payment. I can think of a few specific examples involving PC hardware, and knowing those circles it spreads so fast the companies would be overrun by orders for something obviously completely mismarked.

  6. ARPRINCE says:

    Amazon made the same booboo sometime ago. They canceled the orders too citing the same terms as Kmart did in their website.

  7. indianaguy says:

    i’m glad that kmart didn’t honor the order. i don’t understand why people try to “stick it to the man” when it is obviously a mistake, are companies no longer afforded errors?

  8. Buran says:

    @indianaguy: They try to stick it to US all the time, and when the error is in their favor they do anything to keep the money. Why should we be sympathetic? I don’t run out and try to take advantage of these deals but I have little sympathy either.

  9. Gopher bond says:

    I always thought there was a “Reasonable person” standard to things like this. Would a reasonable person expect to pay $1400 for such a TV? Possibly. $20? nuh-uh.

  10. underrun says:

    I would like to see someone pay the price Walmart wanted to post just to see what TV they would get.

    Or can they cancel orders where they mistype the make and/or model too?

  11. Wargazm says:

    @Buran: i agree completely. I feel little sympathy for companies that do this kind of stuff. I don’t think you should be allowed to make these kinds of errors. The prevalent logic is that such typos create “unreasonable prices.” Well, who’s to say what’s unreasonable? What if they had made a mistake and listed it for $700 dollars instead of $1700? Is that still “unreasonable”?

  12. kenposan says:

    Megan: “While it was Kmart’s mistake, did they honestly think they deserved a TV for $20?”

    Way too many pronouns in there. Since “they” is not identified as the purchasers, it sounds like you are referring to KMart.

    (sorry, married to an English teacher). :)

  13. NZDave says:

    I would be surprised if a price posted on a web site was legally an “offer” under commercial law in the US anyway… in most places it would be considered an “invitation to treat” and not be binding on the reseller.

  14. Charles Duffy says:

    @Wargazm: Whether $700 is unreasonable is something for a small claims judge to figure out. Whether $20 is unreasonable is plainly obvious.

    What you’re doing — trying to argue that a distinction shouldn’t be made at all simply because there’s a large grey area between the simple-to-distinguish cases — is a classical fallacy if I recall correctly, though it’s been long enough since my freshman year of college that I don’t recall the name.

  15. sncreducer says:

    @Charles Duffy:

    reductio ad absurdum.

    My speech classes were among the few outside of my chosen major that I really got into. Thanks to the excellent Prof. Joe Tumen of SF State for that.

  16. sncreducer says:

    Hmmmm. On second thought, I may be misapplying reductio ad absurdum here. Maybe I should have gotten into that class a little more. But I’m still with you, Charles.

  17. Sudonum says:

    Didn’t we have this discussion a while back regarding a hotel room in London for a ridiculously low price?

  18. mattbrown says:

    I got my fake TV for free.

  19. indianaguy says:


    thats pretty hyprocritcal of you. you said in a previous post about overpriced ringtones that anyone that buys it deserves what they get ( or something of that nature ).

    If you were to pay that much over for what an item was worth than your obviously not a very good consumer to begin with. It is your responsibility be be informed on your purchases. To expect a company to be perfect every time is not only unreasonable but also ridiculous.

    Like GI Joe says, knowing is half the battle.

  20. EtherealStrife says:


    Wow love the GI Joe quote. :)

    It seems like people are too quick to jump on to Kmart’s side. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been screwed over by stores (such as the Invalid Rebate bs), so if I see a good deal I jump on.

    I picked up an MP3 player for -$7 (after mrb) about a year ago. That would ordinarily be ridiculous, but it wasn’t a typo on the store’s part. Because I didn’t question it, I got a free mp3 player and 7 bucks for my trouble. Similarly at Walmart I pick up clothing all sub-$4. a $1.97 shirt seems ridiculous, but there’s no mistake.

    Being a good consumerist is about being able to spot a good deal and not worrying about whether the store is going to take a hit on it.

  21. 0x12is18 says:

    One thing than no one seems to realize it that these companies do not print their ads themselves. They are printed by a third party, which leaves an even larger margin for error. Additionally, some of these retailers have contracted a third party to manage their web site, so again the error could be on the part of a third party.

    Businesses are made up of people and people make mistakes. I think everyone should understand when a pricing error is grossly wrong, there is no need to honor that price.

    One note about Wal-mart, having worked for them, if there is a big pricing error in an advertisement, they will make corrections just like anyone else. However, if there are mis-stocked items (and I don’t mean 1 DVD player that another customer dumped in the wrong place) then they will honor the price (it got me a $200 portable DVD placer for $60).

  22. BII says:

    @Charles Duffy:

    This happens on our website sometimes through human or technical errors, and we are not legally required to honor the price. It is always a genuine mistake, but it will go out to the forums, etc, and we’ll get flooded with orders in massive quantities.

    Sometimes I’ll go look at comments posted on a forum, and some will be indignant that they didn’t get a $2,000 product for 99 cents, but most people are reasonable and simply placed the order “to see if it goes through.” Fair enough.

  23. higginsrj says:

    @kenposan: I understood it perfectly, despite the imperfect construct. Hope we’re not going to start nitpicking grammar here.

  24. mst3kzz says:

    I sometimes “gamble” on these obvious price mistakes, but very few have panned out. Just last week I ordered a $200 patio table for $20 on and before that a $500 suit for $28 from Jos. A Bank. There were a bunch of CDs priced at $0.00 on overstock last fall that went through for me, so if the company isn’t losing too much, they might let them slide (or might not notice them), so it’s usually not worth it because they will usually be cancelled (unless you are the only one who orders it- you might get lucky if you keep your mouth shut).