Kitchen and bathroom sales potentially misleading, says Which?

Retailers who are part of the investigation dispute the consumer watchdog's claims

18 Apr, 19

Leading bathroom and kitchen retailers are using potentially misleading discount claims to encourage consumers into a purchase, says consumer watchdog Which?

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It has been disputed by those retailers which have formed part of an investigation by the consumers’ association.

In a year-long investigation, the consumer champion analysed promotions offers for popular retailers between March 2018 and March 2019.

It found firms were using “hurry now” techniques, which could pressurise customers into making a quick purchase, or nearly year-long sales.

Which? also discovered, in one case, a ‘sale’ launched after prices had been hiked at some point, so the sale price was equivalent to the typical pre-sale price.

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 if they can be shown to be misleading.

Out of the retailers in the investigation, Better Bathrooms, Victoria Plum and Victorian Plumbing all used prominent countdown clocks to promote time-limited promotions ( January and February 2019, although each of these retailers were running other primary offers that were not time-limited.

For example, Victoria Plum ran two offers on January 14 2019 an ‘up to 70% off January sale’ and ‘an extra 10% off sales prices’ on a countdown clock, showing the discount was ending in less than two days.

When Which? checked three days later, the ‘up to 70% off’ was still available but now customers could have got ‘20% off sales prices’ – twice the previous additional discount.

Although the countdown clock only applied to one of the two offers, Which? thinks consumers may have been misled into believing that the ‘70% off sale’ was ending, not just the additional discount.

Which? found Wren ran a multi-buy offer for 50% off when consumers purchased five or more kitchen units, although not promoted as being time-limited, was in place for 246 days.

For 49 days prior to that the offer was higher at 60% and a half-price offer, without the multi-buy stipulation, ran for 70 days before that.

Wickes ran a similar deal when it offered 50% off its Showroom Kitchen if consumers bought five of more units, for 199 days.

Head of home products and services at Which? Natalie Hitchins said: “It’s unacceptable for retailers to be using potentially misleading tricks to make a sale.”

She continued: “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 mislead 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.”

Bathroom and kitchen retailers which were investigated by the consumers’ association have responded to Which?

Victoria Plum said: “We work very hard to help customers get the great bathroom they want at low prices.

“Varied promotions and website experiences recognise that different customers have different needs.

“This is why we work closely with the Advertising Standards Authority to ensure all our promotions meet their guidelines.”

Victorian Plumbing said: “The Committee of Advertising Practice has reviewed the countdown clocks on our site 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 access the clearest way to present this.”

Bathstore commented: “When our new management team were 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.”

Wren Kitchens has disputed Which? findings and maintains that it multi-buy offer is to ensure economies of scale in production and not to entice or mislead consumers.

It told Which? that is had prepared its 2018 and 2019 promotions in conjunction with the ASA and all relevant guidelines.

soak.com said: “Our marketing messages are consistent with current ASA guidelines and are often approved via its compliance team prior to going live.

“Our seasonal activity aims to provide value for money for our customers all year round and all offers are consistently monitored and assessed”

Better Bathrooms went into administration in March and has subsequently been bought by Buy It Direct.

Kitchens & Bathrooms News has requested a response from Buy It Direct and Wickes declined to comment.