Websites including Amazon accused of ‘misleading consumers’ in France

Analysis of more than 6,000 sales showed more than 90% did not provide a genuine discount, according to a French consumer watchdog

E-commerce giants have come under fire for their sales promotions
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French consumer rights watchdog UFC-Que Choisir has filed a complaint against eight e-commerce websites – including Amazon and La Redoute – over ‘misleading commercial practices’ relating to sales promotions.

It says only 3.4% of sales where prices are ‘crossed out’ and replaced with a new, lower price were genuine, and fall foul of EU regulations introduced last year.

The watchdog says they are misleading because they suggest the products have been discounted (by using the slashed price form of advertising) on the site in question. But, in reality, added UFC-Que Choisir, they are based on vague ‘comparison prices’.

The usage of the same format for these apparent sales alongside ‘genuine’ ones tricks customers into believing the price is lower than it was previously. Only very small print highlights the difference between the two types of promotion.

The watchdog has called on the European Commission to more stringently enforce the regulations that prohibit presenting prices in this way, and say sales should only be promoted as such if the price of the product is cheaper than it was on the same website the month before.

Eight companies accused

The sites accused by the consumer rights group range from e-commerce giants to French supermarkets.

The full list is: ASOS, Amazon, Cdiscount, E.Leclerc, La Redoute, Rue du Commerce, Veepee, and Zalando.

They have been accused of “duping customers” with the practice of using comparison prices instead of internal prices, and “dangling [supposed] bargains in front of [consumers],” says UFC-Que Choisir.

These ‘comparison’ prices use one of a number of methods – examples include ‘Recommended retail price’, ‘Original price’, ‘Old price’, ‘Average price on marketplace’, ‘Average price on competitor sites’, and ‘Price given by seller’ – to make it seem as if the product is now cheaper, even if there has been no change in the internal price of the product.

An analysis of 6,586 products across the eight sites showed only 3.4% were offering a genuine sale – where the product was cheaper than the month before on the same site.

These sales with ‘comparison’ prices are often promoted alongside real sales, using similar fonts, colours and the ‘slashed price’ format, with only small print showing the original is a comparative, and not an internal one, further confusing customers and blurring the difference between the two types of promotion, says the watchdog.

Read also: Low-cost supermarket Lidl to launch online shopping in France

More opaque references lead to bigger discounts

Even if customers see the ‘slashed’ price is not an internal one, the exact definition of how the companies came up with the price is buried behind lots of data, sometimes only available to the company itself.

The watchdog says the comparison prices are “unintelligible” for consumers.

On top of this, the level of the proposed discount increased dramatically when using the unregulated ‘comparison’ prices (26.5% on average), compared to cases of a genuine sale (an average discount of only 6%)

It is a “deplorable ploy to push consumers into buying [products] by making them believe they are getting a good deal,” says the group.

The watchdog has called on Brussels to act and enforce a ban on anything other than a genuine sale.

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