A Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation (which followed a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority) into an online mattress retailer - part of a wider CMA consumer enforcement programme - has highlighted the dangers of using countdown timers and the like in advertising to imply that consumers must act urgently or risk losing out on discounts when those discounts, in fact, continue after the end of the countdown period.
Such techniques can amount to a ‘blacklisted practice’ set out in consumer protection regulations and, if they do, are automatically unfair under those regulations.
The particular investigation related to an offer in a London Underground advertisement that included an electronic countdown timer - but the timer reset itself every time it reached zero and there was in fact no deadline attached to the offer. Other practices which, while not necessarily unfair, may attract the regulator’s attention include:
- misleading claims that stocks of a particular product are limited;
- misleading headline prices, that are then subject to add-on charges and fees, whether compulsory or optional;
- defaulting to particular choices and options during a buying process, such as optional extras, particular brands and automatic renewal of subscription services, which consumers have to specifically opt out of;
- using behavioural factors to determine whereabouts in a list to put listed products, so consumers are more likely to choose them. This can include using paid ranking - paying to rank or sponsor products on online search results.
- Businesses should review their sales and marketing, including their advertising and sales forms, looking for blacklisted and similar practices.
This article from Atom Content Marketing is for general guidance only, for businesses in the United Kingdom governed by the laws of England. Atom Content Marketing, expert contributors and ICAEW (as distributor) disclaim all liability for any errors or omissions.
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Legal Alert is a monthly checklist from Atom Content Marketing highlighting new and pending laws, regulations, codes of practice and rulings that could have an impact on your business.