Sales tactics used by the online deals website Wowcher could be putting pressure on people to spend money, the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) has found.
It launched an investigation into Wowcher in March and has now written to the company asking it to make changes to its online sales practices in order to avoid court action.
Earlier in the year it said “urgency claims” which are used on the website could be misleading shoppers and breaking consumer protection law.
These claims often say a product is “running out” or “in high demand” and are featured alongside a countdown clock. But using these types of marketing materials create an impression of urgency and influence shoppers to buy things, the CMA said.
It said these claims “risk giving the misleading impression that products will increase in price or will not be available, when this is often not the case”. When used alongside countdown clocks they can also put pressure on people to buy items and make rushed purchases.
The CMA also said it was concerned about the way Wowcher uses hidden charges and pre-ticked boxes to sign customers up to VIP memberships.
In a letter to Wowcher, the CMA has outlined the way in which the company must address these issues. The company now must respond to the CMA and agree to change its online sales practices in order to avoid court action.
‘Misleading urgency claims put pressure on shoppers’
Sarah Cardell, chief executive of the CMA, said: “Misleading urgency claims put pressure on shoppers to make quick decisions when spending their money. With soaring living costs, people need the time to shop around and find the right deals.
“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.”
‘Wowcher should swiftly put a stop to these practices’
Sue Davies, Which? head of consumer protection policy, said: “Deals websites like Wowcher are popular with consumers so it’s troubling that the CMA has found evidence of Wowcher using tactics such as misleading countdown timers and discount offers.
“Wowcher should swiftly put a stop to these practices, and if it fails to meet the requirements, the regulator must be prepared to take further action.
“Once passed, the Government’s Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill will be an important step that will give the CMA the power to fine companies if they flout the law, rather than having to threaten court action, which could drag on for a long time.”
A spokeperson for Wowcher said: “Wowcher’s mission has always been to help save our customers money with the best, exclusive offers from thousands of our merchants across the UK. This has never been more important than in this challenging economic environment.
“The aim of our marketing claims is always to provide accurate and useful information to our customers when they are browsing our website. We look forward to continuing to engage with the CMA on this matter.”