The independent consumer rights body analysed promotional offers from popular kitchen and bathroom retailers for a year between March 2018 and March 2019, and found firms were using techniques including ‘hurry deals’, which might pressure customers into making a quick purchase and, in one case, a ‘sale’ launched after prices had been hiked at some point so that the sale price was actually equivalent to the typical pre-sale price.
Which? said: ‘Four brands featured in the investigation ran ‘offers’ under various guises on at least 361 days out of 365 – a practice that might have persuaded some shoppers to rush a purchase because they may believe the sale price is available for a limited time.’
Which? is alerting Trading Standards to its findings and asking for these practices to be investigated. A retailer’s actions could be in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs) if they can be shown to be misleading, and likely to cause the average person to make a transactional decision they would not have made otherwise. A separate complaint about one of the retailers has been made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
Which? is concerned that a lack of effective action taken to date by the authorities over these ‘brazen practices is yet another example of how the current system of consumer enforcement is struggling to ensure people are adequately protected’.
Which? said that out of the retailers in the investigation, Better Bathrooms, Victoria Plum and Victorian Plumbing, all used prominent countdown clocks to promote various time-limited promotions during January and February 2019 – although each of these retailers was running other primary offers that were not time-limited.
The body added that many of the companies investigated had at least one promotion on a lot – or even all – of the time. While promotions weren’t always for the same products, Wren Kitchens and Wickes had various deals on every single day from March 2018 to March 2019. Wickes ran a similar deal. For 199 days it offered 50% off its showroom kitchens if you bought five or more units. Victoria Plum had a series of deals on for all but one day and Bathstore for 361 out of 365 days.
Which? head of home products and services Natalie Hitchins said: “A new kitchen or bathroom is likely to set you back thousands of pounds, so it’s unacceptable for retailers to be using potentially misleading tricks to make a sale. Our research suggests that this is an industry-wide issue. We want to see retailers being more transparent about their prices so that consumers aren’t misled into parting with their cash for a deal that might not be as good as it seems. If they don’t make improvements then trading standards and the ASA need to intervene.”
Rights of reply
- Victoria Plum said: “We work very hard to help customers get the great bathrooms they want at low prices. Varied promotional and website experiences recognise that different customers have different needs. This is why we work closely with the ASA to ensure all our promotions meet their guidelines.”
- Victorian Plumbing said: “The Committee of Advertising Practice has reviewed the countdown clocks on our site and it felt that customers could tell that they referred to a secondary promotion. We’re confident that our customers can easily discern sales information on our site but we will continue to assess the clearest way to present this.”
- Bathstore commented: “When our new management team was appointed in autumn last year, we transformed the promotional strategy for Bathstore. Our current offers focus on lower headline discounts and added value offers. Plus, our Trading Standards local authority has approved all our promotional campaign activity over the last six months.”
- Better Bathrooms, which has now gone into administration and been bought by Buy it Direct, has not yet responded to our request for comment.
- Wren Kitchens disputes the findings and maintains that its perpetual multi-buy offer is to ensure economies of scale in production and not to entice or mislead consumers. It told us that it had prepared its 2018 and 2019 promotions in conjunction with the ASA and all relevant guidance.
- Wickes declined to comment.