Despite European rules supposed to regulate the practice, too many brands still play with crossed out prices in order to dangle attractive promotions to their customers, at the risk of misleading them. One year after the entry into force of the European Omnibus Directive, setting a framework for promotional announcements, the consumer defense association UFC-Que Choisir announced on Wednesday May 31, in a communicatedthat she was going to file a complaint against eight e-commerce sites for “deceptive commercial practices”.
The Federal Consumers’ Union (UFC) accuses Amazon, ASOS, Cdiscount, E.Leclerc, La Redoute, Rue du Commerce, Veepee and Zalando of “fool” buyers with labels displaying crossed out prices, leading them to believe that it is a discount when it is very often only a comparison price with a competing brand.
“Only 3.4% of real promotions”
The rule, however, is clear: European Omnibus directive, effective May 28, 2022 by prescription, specifies that a professional must mention the price charged before the discount. And that this must be the price “the lowest price charged by the professional for all consumers during the last thirty days preceding the application of the price reduction”, according to article L112-1-1. Only exception, this rule “does not apply to operations by which a professional compares the prices he displays with those of other professionals”. In the event of fraud, a merchant incurs a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of 300,000 euros for deceptive commercial practice.
But the UFC-Que Choisir judges that the online sales brands have set up “new strategies to circumvent the regulations”. Based on a study of 6,586 ads posted online by the brands against which it is complaining, the association estimates that “only 3.4% [des promotions] correspond to real promotions operated by the sellers ». “They freely choose a reference price with which to compare their product, so as to present their offer as a bargain not to be missed”, notes the UFC. The signs mention, depending on the case, that it is a ” old price “of a ” advised sale price “, of one “average price on the marketplace”of a “price indicated by the seller”, etc. ; terms identified by the association, which judges them “as multiple as they are unintelligible”.
Everything is done to “reproduce the visual format of a promotion”
“The great similarity of these ads misleads consumers, leading them to consider these crossed out prices as price reductions in accordance with the regulations, and not as a simple comparison”considered the UFC. She believes that displaying a crossed-out price contributes to maintaining confusion, noting also that ” traders (…) also make every effort to replicate the visual format of a promotion”.
A practice “opaque”, for university professor Virginie Pez, a specialist in customer behavior, and who can “arouse consumer mistrust of merchants, because they may feel manipulated”. “The offers are so numerous that the consumer cannot analyze everything and bases his choice on cognitive shortcuts such as the promotion or the price comparison akin to a disguised promotion”, she specifies.
According to the calculations of UFC-What to choose, with regard to “the real promotions in accordance with the regulations”, the average rebate is estimated at 6.0%, while it reaches ” the unlikely amount of 26.5% for unregulated references”. In addition to the complaint filed, the association also calls on the European authorities to act to ban “strictly any other reference price system than that provided for by the Omnibus Directive”.
On the occasion of the sales and Black Friday, UFC-Que Choisir had already denounced other types of false promotions aimed at circumventing Omnibus. Some brands in particular inflate their prices thirty days before the commercial reduction period to pretend to make promotions. A consumer testifying for TF1 in November 2022 realized this when buying a dress: “The reference price had gone up, and the clearance price was just the same as the pre-demarcation price. »