Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Boots Cash Chemists (Southern) Ltd.
On April 13, 1951, two customers took drugs from a shelf in pharmacy, put it in their basket and paid at the cash register at the exit. The pharmacist station was near the poisons section so they were able to oversee all transactions but the pharmacist took no part in the transaction. The Pharmaceutical Society, as the organization responsible for enforcing provisions of the Pharmacy and Poisons Act, 1933, brought this action as a test case against this type of retailing. At the lower court they found this type of retailing was not in contravention of the Act and the Society appealed.
Boots Cash Chemists introduced a new method of purchasing drugs from their store- the drugs would be on display, shoppers would pick them from the shelves, and pay for them at the till. The Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain objected to this method, claiming that S.18(1) of the Pharmacy and Poisons Act 1933 mandated the presence of a pharmacist during the sale of a product listed under the Act’s schedule of poisons.
The Society alleged that the display of goods constituted an offer and a customer, upon choosing a product/drug, had accepted the offer. Due to lack of supervision of a pharmacist, the Boots Cash Chemists had, according to the Pharmaceutical Society, violated the terms of the Pharmacy and Poisons Act of 1933. Matter was taken to court.
- At what stage of a purchase in a self-serve store is there an acceptance of offer?
- Is the customer bound to a purchase once they place an item in their basket?
- Are Boots liable for selling poisons without a pharmacist’s supervision?
DECISION appeal dismissed
Somervell, writing for the court, makes an analogy to a bookseller; the customer is still browsing while putting items in their basket and there has been no acceptance until completed at the checkout. As a result a shopkeeper’s display cannot be an offer and must be an invitation to treat. The logical conclusion of the plaintiff’s argument would be that once a customer put an item in their basket they would be committed to the purchase and would not be able to change their mind.
- Goods on a display are invitation not an offer; the customer makes an offer when they take the goods to the register.
- The cashier is under the shopkeeper’s authority to make acceptance, hence a contract has not been made until the cashier accepts the purchase.