At the end of last week, in conjunction with its UK launch, Chinese phone maker Xiaomi launched a sale that seemed too good to be true. It was offering some new smartphones for a mere £1, a story that got picked up by all sorts of people - including us. Turns out it may well have been too good to be true, and the Advertising Standards Authority has received at least one complaint about the promotion as a result.
The sale has caused a great deal of backlash on social media, primarily because the terms and conditions reveal that there were only 10 uber-cheap handsets available. Three for the first two sales and two for the final two, meaning it was going to be impossible to get one of Xiaomi's already-dirt cheap phones for less money than a bottle of Coke.
Xiaomi has offered similar flash sales in other countries, at a €1 sale in Spain the company only had 50 units available. That's not a lot either, but it's an awful lot better than 10. But that's not all, because speculation has run rampant online that the sale wasn't actually a sale at all. Twitter user Phil Williams analysed the page's code and claims he found the page was programmed to immediately change the status to 'Out of Stock' without actually checking if anyone had bought the phone.
@XiaomiUK_ Your promotion for the £1 phone was a scam. Looking at the logic and browser requests, there are no calls to check stock limits, you simply swap the text to show 'out of stock' once the timer expired. pic.twitter.com/4HxKFENufL
— Phil Williams (@phil_williams81) November 9, 2018
Xiaomi has denied these accusations, and claims that users who were able to click the button were pushed into a lottery to see who would be allowed to buy the phone. The explanation didn't go down well, since the T&Cs didn't make any mention of this, and the sales page itself didn't mention the severely limited availability of each phone. According to the ASA this is problematic, since its rules say customers must be informed of limited availability "clearly and in a timely fashion".
"If the ad didn't include significant conditions and the terms and conditions were changed part way through the promotion, then that could potentially be a problem."
It's now mulling over the decision on whether it should investigate. Meanwhile Xiaomi hopes the event hasn't put people off buying its phones at the normal price, with a spokesperon saying:
"We've held flash sales all over the world since our first one back in 2013 as a way to give a lucky few customers a chance to get their hands on our smartphones at incredibly low prices. [This] was our first in the UK and attracted enormous levels of demand, far beyond what we were expecting.
We're sorry so many Xiaomi fans missed out this time round but we hope they'll take part in future flash sales as and when we announce them."