PC World's parent company was left red-faced and considering its legal options this week after it was found guilty of mis-selling computer equipment. A Yorkshire court heard how buyers were fooled into thinking that they were getting new computer equipment while they were - in fact - not only getting secondhand kit, and in one case a laptop with a long history of trouble.
The five day-long case, which concluded this week, was brought under the 1968 Trade Descriptions Act. The court heard that on 3 April, 2002 a customer bought a Toshiba 1800-814 laptop from a Yorkshire branch of PC World while another customer bought an Apple 700 CDRW on 31 December the following year from the same out-of-town outlet. Both believed that the equipment was "ex-display" or "otherwise new".
DSG Retail Ltd, which owns PC World, as well as Dixons, Currys, and The Link, explained that the two cases were "honest mistakes" caused by its computer system and individual error. However this brought no favour from the court.
City of York Trading Standards proved the "description" part of the case by producing till receipts from both days. It is understood that investigations into the extent of this practice was responsible for the delay in bringing the cases to court.
Judge John Foster fined DSG Retail Ltd £5,500, awarded its wronged customers £2,184 compensation, and ordered the company to pay the £28,000 prosecution costs. DSG immediately said that it would consider an appeal.
Matthew Boxall, for Trading Standards, said: "These computers were sold on information that was blatantly wrong. The company hadn't done enough to prevent the wrong impression being given - this case shows there are serious consequences.
"The judge has imposed a significant fine, awarded substantial costs and fully compensated the victims. He has made it quite clear that businesses - whatever their size - cannot escape their responsibilities. It's great news for consumers and for those businesses who do all they can to prevent similar problems arising. It shows it pays to get it right."
To make things worse the judge attacked the "due diligence" defence (which could be used to present cases as "honest accidents") and stated that the amount of staff training at the individual PC World store wasn't long enough to prevent such mistakes happening.
In the case of the Toshiba laptop, the customer only found it had been pre-owned when he complained to Toshiba itself about its performance. The model had been owned by a commercial company, but had been returned after various faults had emerged.
PC World said in a statement: "This was an unfortunate case of human error and there was no intent on our part to mislead the customers. We have comprehensive processes in place to ensure that mistakes are not made and during the hearing the judge praised our procedures. We are disappointed with the outcome and we are currently considering an appeal."
Trading Standards is interested in any other customers (irrespective of UK location) who believe they have also received secondhand equipment from PC World (or any other retailer) which was advertised as new. They can be found under Trading Standards in the phone book or via www.bt.com.
The Trading Standards website is here. ®