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persuasion notebook

A woman tries a Lenovo tablet on display during a news conference announcing the company's annual results in Hong Kong May 21, 2014.BOBBY YIP/Reuters

Persuasion Notebook offers quick hits on the business of persuasion from The Globe and Mail's marketing and advertising reporter, Susan Krashinsky. Read more on The Globe's marketing page and follow Susan on Twitter @Susinsky.

Angry customers are accusing computer manufacturer Lenovo of false advertising after the company posted sale prices on its website, and then refused to honour those prices.

Last weekend, the company advertised a "door crasher" sale on its website, offering as much as 80 per cent off some of its laptops.

For example, the Y410p model was offered at $279, down from its regular price of $879. The Y510p was offered at $509, down from $1,009.

When customers placed their orders, however, they received a message from the company saying that the sale was a mistake. However, some customers received this message only after their credit cards were charged.

"Dear valued customer ... Due to a pricing error on our website, we will have to cancel your order," reads an e-mail from Lenovo sent to one customer. "We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this has caused, and would like to help you place a new order."

But angry customers say they felt that the deal was intended to entice them to visit the site with false advertising for low prices, in hopes that they would shop around once they were there.

"It was a bait and switch," said Shane Bennett, a Toronto-area student who ordered two laptops on the weekend – one for him and one for his fiancée. "They charged our cards, they took our information, and the price was still advertised on the site, even after they sent out cancellations."

Mr. Bennett said that while he received an e-mail saying he would be refunded, the money has not yet been returned to his account.

On the weekend, a disgruntled customer posted a petition on the website asking Lenovo to honour the pricing on its site, and accusing the company of "false advertising" designed to "get some free PR." The petition has since gathered roughly 4,000 signatures.

Others have contacted the Competition Bureau.

"We have received complaints and we are aware of this matter," said Phil Norris, senior communications advisor. He would not say how many complaints have come in or whether the Competition Bureau intends to launch a formal investigation.

The Competition Act includes a prohibition on "'bait-and-switch' selling which occurs when a product is advertised at a bargain price, but is not available for sale in reasonable quantities."

In an interview Tuesday, Lenovo spokeswoman Milanka Muecke said that the mixup was unintentional.

"Absolutely not, this is not a bait and switch," she said. "…We truly apologize. We deeply regret what happened. It's an inconvenience and it has caused a lot of unhappy customers. That's not what we want."

Customers took to social media to voice their anger.

"As a consumer I am absolutely disgusted how this whole situation has been handled," a man named Brad Kulcheski wrote on the Lenovo Canada Facebook page.

"They are holding $1,200 on my [credit card] and still haven't refunded," customer Yasir Haider also wrote on the page on Tuesday morning. "The guy just hung up on me."

A customer posted a video on YouTube showing his order being cancelled.

And many more complained on Twitter, using the #LenovoSucks hashtag.

One Twitter user calling himself Anthony Lakeshore expressed anger that he was asked to hand over personal information for a transaction that never went through.

"Gave personal [and] credit info for a laptop. Got no laptop, but you have my info," he wrote.

The Lenovo Canada Twitter account had responded to a handful of customers by Tuesday midday, promising to provide an update soon.

But many complained about the delayed response. The company's failure to explain the situation immediately, and its general silence appears to have severely compounded its PR problem.

On Tuesday afternoon, Lenovo Canada issued a statement explaining that a "doorbuster" e-coupon had mistakenly been combined with another discount price. The company says the prices on its website have been corrected.

"As stated on our website and in the terms and conditions which customers agree to when purchasing a Lenovo product, Lenovo – like other computer manufacturers – reserves the right to cancel any orders for products placed at an incorrect price due to an error in pricing," the statement said. "We have informed the affected customers of the pricing error and we are in the process of cancelling their orders and any charges that occurred. We deeply regret any inconvenience this error has caused."

"We do have the terms and conditions saying we reserve the right to cancel orders in the event of a pricing error. Things like this happen. It's not the first time it's happened in the industry, frankly, to Lenovo or other companies," Ms. Muecke said. "What happened here was an error … if it sounded too good to be true, it was."

Lenovo will offer customers whose orders were cancelled $100 off their next purchase of a Lenovo laptop for a 60-day period. That offer will not begin until May 28, the same day the current "doorbuster" sale ends.

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