UPDATE 8 OCTOBER, 12:45PM: JB Hi-Fi has changed course on gift cards, announcing via its website and SMS to pre-order customers that they can pay for their new consoles with gift cards. You will need to use this page to submit a request to use your gift card. Full details in this follow up story.
Original story below...
Consumer advocacy organisation CHOICE says that JB Hi-Fi is putting itself in the firing line for potential breach of consumer law with its refusal to allow console pre-orders to be finalised with gift card payments.
JB Hi-Fi, well loved by many a gamer for its pithy miniature game reviews and good prices, has surprised and upset many pre-order customers in recent days.
People have been sharing screenshots of text messages that have told people they were unexpectedly not getting launch day consoles, that they would not be allowed to pay with gift cards, and that they now have only until 11 October to pay in full or they will lose their pre-order ahead of the November console launches.
This whole thing reeks of unfair moving of goalposts. Many fans save up gift cards for exactly this kind of moment, and no one has spotted anything in the terms and conditions that suggest a valid reason outlining why gift cards are unacceptable.
But I'm not a consumer law expert. CHOICE, on the other hand, has a team of them. So I asked for their insights on what people should be thinking about all this. And they find it pretty concerning.
"Gift cards are meant to operate like cash," says Julia Steward, Head of Policy at CHOICE. "Any onerous restrictions on gift card use have to be clearly explained at the time of purchase [of the gift cards]. JB Hi-Fi has clear terms and conditions for gift cards with no information about restrictions."
"JB Hi-Fi is at real risk of breaching the consumer law here by misleading customers about gift card terms and conditions."
We hear this kind of thing a lot, though. Breaches. Consumer law. What's actually at stake if JB Hi-Fi is found guilty of a breach here?
"There are serious penalties," says Steward. "Penalties can be as high as $10,000,000, three times the value of the benefit obtained or 10% of the Australian connected group turnover in the preceding 12 months."
The issue is also a pragmatic one right now. People want their launch day consoles. They believed JB Hi-Fi was going to be a great place to get one. They put $50 down on getting one and it was accepted. And now there's just a few days notice that gift cards are out and you must pay or lose your order. What can people do right now?
"If you want to pay by gift card, make a complaint to JB Hi-Fi straight away, pointing them to the terms and conditions for their own gift cards," says Steward. "You can report JB Hi-Fi to your state or territory consumer affairs body."
We contacted JB Hi-Fi for comment but they did not respond at time of publication.
The other glimmer of hope? After hearing this and agreeing it looks unfair, CHOICE tells Byteside that it will be contacting JB Hi-Fi about this situation too. Fingers crossed the pressure will grow and JB will pull its head in or prove its case on why this is all magically OK.
Even if that turns out to somehow be the case, it's burning some bridges with a lot of formerly loyal customers.