Fusion Digital Arts

That’ll teach you to send your Bloomingdale’s emails to spam. Last Friday, the retailer mistakenly sent out a bunch of emails to customers in its loyalty program, telling them that they were eligible for gift cards loaded up with $5,000, $10,000, or even $25,000. One New York man made a beeline straight for the midtown Manhattan location of the store, where he loaded up on $17,000 of merchandise, including a Louis Vuitton bag, a $5,000 watch, and a $10,000 pair of diamond earrings.

And then he got the phone call. This was a mistake, said Bloomingdale’s. Bring back the goods!

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There’s no obviously good reason why he should do that. He’d lose out on thousands of dollars’ worth of swag, and all Bloomingdale’s are offering in return is a $100 gift card. But Fusion wanted to know: does he have a legal obligation to give back the merch?

We asked Daniel from Unwonk, the fabulous ask-a-lawyer podcast, and the author of Deadspin’s Ask A Lawyer column, what he thought. (Just to be clear, Daniel’s answers are his take on the situation, and do not constitute legal advice.)

The first thing Daniel said is that this dispute is, at heart, about a fictional currency issued by Bloomingdale’s. It’s not like those mistaken-bank-deposit stories, where someone wakes up to see a massive balance in their bank account which doesn’t actually belong to them. It’s just about Bloomingdale’s making a mistake with their own currency, and then rescinding that mistake, because, well, they control the currency.

So, sorry, Candace Jackson, associate at major international law firm Mayer Brown. When Bloomingdale’s makes a mistake, you might expect them to honor that mistake. Or, alternatively, you might expect them to rectify that mistake and do everything they can to ensure that it ended up costing them as little as possible. But Bloomingdale’s has no obligation at all to you to send you those goods.

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On the other hand, smart guy who decided to go shopping in person, rather than online: if you’re a one-off case, then probably Bloomingdale’s has very little recourse against you. If thousands of shoppers had collectively relieved Bloomingdale’s of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of merchandise, thereby imperiling the very company, then, says Daniel, “it's possible that Bloomingdale’s could try to argue that rescission of the transactions is necessary to avoid collective unjust enrichment, or that enforcement of the transactions would be unconscionable – any other result would put the company out of business or cripple it.”

But if it’s just the one guy? He’s probably free and clear, and can hold on to his Vuitton bag and his diamond earrings. After all, he entered into a contract with Bloomingdale’s, where they gave him store credit and willingly handed over the goods. A New York court would be most unlikely to cancel that contract, says Daniel, “without evidence of outright fraud”.

Really, the best that Bloomingdale’s can do with this guy, says Daniel, is say “rofl we made a mistake” and try to get whatever PR benefit out of it that they can. Because they’re not getting those diamonds back – and the law would not seem to be on their side.