Last year, an article we ran in this publication looked at how the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) had published an open letter to ‘help businesses understand their obligations when making urgency claims (for example countdown timers; ‘act fast’ messages) and price reduction claims online’. The CMA’s letter urged businesses to audit their own practices and take action if they are engaged in practices, set out in the letter as ‘dark patterns’.
Examples of these ‘dark patterns’ include claims that are misleading because promotions don’t end when the claims say they will and comparison prices that are misleading because they no longer reflect the usual price, or where they omit or hide information that consumers need to know upfront e.g. spend £100 and get 25% off needs to be clearly stated up front. The initial email shouldn’t just say ‘25% off’
I’m now able to give you an update on the CMA’s investigation into practices at Wowcher. The CMA has concluded its investigation and called on Wowcher to give undertakings to change its practices. Failure to do so could result in court proceedings.
The CMA found that Wowcher’s website: ‘features extensive use of countdown clocks and marketing claims such as ‘Running out!’ or ‘In high demand!’ which create an impression of urgency and influence shoppers as they are making their purchasing decisions.’
Claims of this kind risk giving customers the misleading impression that products will increase in price or become unavailable when this is often not the case and, particularly when used with countdown clocks, can put pressure on shoppers to make rushed purchases for fear of missing out.
The CMA also highlighted other practices used by Wowcher, including hidden charges and the use of a pre-ticked box to enrol consumers into VIP memberships on Wowcher’s site, which: ‘may lead to additional unintended purchases by consumers’.
Sarah Cardell, Chief Executive of the CMA, said:
“We want to send an important message to Wowcher and other online businesses that time is running out on pressure selling tactics and we are calling on them to agree to change the way they do business to avoid the risk of court action.”
After emails from all manner of retailers featuring ‘dark patterns’ flooded inboxes in January, with warnings that offers and sale prices are about to end (and, in some cases, yo-yoing prices), this is a good time to review your own practices.
For more on what ‘dark patterns’ are, see our previous article at www.woodfines.co.uk/resource-centre/blog/time-limited-deals/ or contact Woodfines Solicitors at www.woodfines.co.uk