Can I extend an offer after cart close?

Mar 04, 2023

This is something that comes up a lot.

The people that know the answer find it really frustrating and the people that don't, well they're selling illegally.

Can you continue to sell your offer after you said it was off the table? Let's take a closer look.

What is closed cart?

Firstly, we need to get clear on the concept of "open" and "closed" cart, what does that even mean? This terminology comes from the US, referring to the online shopping cart. Many online stores have a checkout function where you "add to cart". The idea of it being open and closed often refers to launching.

Launching is the concept of having your offers/products/services available for purchase between certain dates. When the cart is open during a launch people can purchase and when it's closed they can't.

Within a launch there should be very clear dates on when the cart is open and closed.

Why are the open and closed dates important?

The whole premise of a launch is to encourage people to purchase before the end of the period. Some people call this process incentivisation, others refer to it as creating scarcity. The strategy behind open and closed cart is that you encourage people to make a decision before a deadline, either they are investing or they aren't. They can't simply purchase tomorrow, and by removing the availability you can create scarcity or FOMO (fear of missing out) so that people do take you up on an offer that day. 

One of the main reasons someone will invest before a specific deadline is due to the price, with a price increase following the expiry of a launch date, people don't want to pay more tomorrow if they don't have to.

Sometimes, in addition to the price being lower during the open cart, the product/service may also go away completely during the closed cart period. Customers will be unable to purchase at all when the cart closes.

What is the law around open and close carts?

The laws that relate to this specific concept centre around misrepresentation and selling legitimately. Once the cart has closed you cannot change the rules. You cannot and must not "allow people in through the back door" or "extend for another 24 hours".

However, that's something I see a lot of. People share on social media that so many people were interested or they've had loads of people reach out who missed the deal and wanted to purchase, so they've decided to extend. 

That's not the correct way to do business.

Firstly, it's really unethical, if you say you're going to do something, e.g. withdraw an offer, then do it. 

If you say a bonus is disappearing, it should be removed. 

I've seen people launch after launch have "tech issues" so they are extending the cart. It makes me question them. Unless you're someone like Denise Duffield Thomas and your launches are so huge you have to notify PayPal and Stripe so they don't shut you down because of unusually high payments*, then it's hard to believe it can happen every time to someone. 

(*I worked with Denise and her husband Mark and they told me about this happening to them. I immediately put that on my goals list, "Creating a launch so big we have to notify Stripe about traffic volumes." It's waiting on our launch planner ready and everything).

The key legal piece is this, if you are inducing someone to purchase from you based on the specific details of your offer, it would not be fair, just or reasonable to move those goal posts once the end point has passed.  The inducement to purchase means that someone probably wouldn't have purchased without that part of the offer and therefore they are disadvantaged if they could have purchased later. Therefore, you cannot change the goalposts and extend the launch specifics. 

It is worth stating that there are a number of applicable laws at play here. As you will probably already be aware, the starting point for businesses when running a promotion is that you are required to communicate the significant conditions of the sale - that's fair enough you might think but sadly rarely done. 

Rarely do we see clear terms stating when a promotion is ending and what the new price point will be. 

Should you be interested in the specifics, the CAP Code (Rule 8.17) requires that: "all marketing communications, or other material referring to promotions, must communicate all applicable significant conditions, or information where the omission of such conditions or information is likely to mislead."

The Advertising Standards Agency has provided guidance on this (you can read the details here) in summary the two points emphasised in the CAP Code Rule 8.17.4.e 

Closing Dates Must Not be Changed Unless BOTH of the following apply:

  1. There are unavoidable circumstances which arise which are beyond the promoters control; and
  2. Not to change the date would be unfair to those who have already participated within the original terms or those who sought to participate within the original terms will not be disadvantaged by the change.

If you're thinking about changing the deadline of your promotion, extending the cart just for a few more days to make sales, then think about the above, could you explain to the regulators what the unavoidable circumstances were that meant you had to extend the timeframe? Perhaps your website was down. What about the second part? How fair would extending the promotion be on those who were induced to purchase because of the promotion? Would they have purchased without it?


Can you create a deadline without adjusting the price point?

The concept of launching and removing the ability for your clients to purchase may seem a little odd. Why on earth would a business have any time when they can't trade if they didn't have to? The concept is popular in the online world but that's probably a conversation for another blog post. 

The concept of launching can be used very successfully, we use it a lot. However, we do it in a non-icky way and actually don't pressurise people by simply saying that the price will double or triple the next day.

A successful launch can also be achieved without completely removing your product or service from the market. 

The way that we like to do it is by adding value. Instead of simply looking at the money aspect, create an offer that provides so much value to your client it would be hard to refuse. Give them bonuses that will really help them to move forward and provide an extra perk so that the whole consumer experience feels wonderful, instead of pressurised and stressful. 

Look out for businesses that do this and see how it makes you feel.

How can I know this stuff?

I really hope that you've found this blog useful. Whenever I share tips like this I get messages from people feeling a little frustrated and saying "Urgh, there is just so much to know about running a business, how am I supposed to know laws like this, no-one talks about this stuff and so many big business owners aren't doing it right".

I totally get it. It's hard to know where to look for trustworthy information, but you're in the right place.  

If you'd like to know more about rules like this, including the refund terms you need to know when selling online, how they differ depending on what your selling and who you're selling to and where you're selling, then you need our mini course. It covers so much about the legalities of selling and it will really help you to stay on the right track. There are specific examples of things you can't do when selling and wording you can use which is compliant instead. 

Selling Legitimately - The Mini Course - Find out more here

When you purchase this mini course you'll also be given the option to add our Refunds, Rights and Responses product for just £29 (it's usually £49). It's actually become one of our best sellers and it's clear to see why as it includes drafted examples of how to reply to non-payers or people asking refunds, with multiple email templates for you to copy and plug in and play into your business. 

You can find out more about Refunds, Rights and Responses here.

If you have any questions please pop them in the comments below and if you've learnt something new, please also let us know in the comments.

Team Lucy Legal x

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