Online Retailers Must Take Care With Printed Brochure Prices, Says Ad Watchdog

Retailers whose prices fluctuate in line with demand and with competitors' prices should not use printed brochures for advertising, according to the UK's advertising watchdog.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has said that printed brochures are an "unsuitable medium" for companies such as online retailers whose prices were subject to change. Telling customers to check the web for latest prices is not sufficient to protect consumers, it said.

The ASA has reprimanded online electronics retailer Dabs.com for an incorrect price in one of its printed brochures. The regulator had investigated a customer complaint that a laptop computer was not available at the price advertised by Dabs.com.

While part of the inaccuracy was due to an error, part of it was due to the fact that underlying price had changed. Dabs.com told the ASA that it had to keep changing its prices because of the nature of the online electronics retail market.

"[Dabs.com] explained that the prices the complainant had seen on their website … were subject to regular fluctuation and could change daily, which was the nature of a competitive industry that operated in a live environment," said ASA's summary of the company's arguments. "Dabs.com said the prices could have changed since the ad had gone to press but pointed out that the ad stated 'check www.dabs.com for latest prices'."

The ASA said, though, that this was not good enough, and that consumers should be provided with accurate prices for goods.

"We considered consumers would expect an advertised price to be correct at the time they saw an ad; it should reflect the price at which the laptop was sold while the ad was in circulation," said the ASA's ruling.

"The text 'check www.dabs.com for latest prices' did not make sufficiently clear that the prices in the ad were subject to regular change; we considered that a brochure was an unsuitable medium for advertising their products because it was likely to remain in circulation after prices had changed," said the ASA.

The price for the laptop in question was lower than the actual price to a consumer because the VAT rate had been left off it in error. In addition to that, though, the underlying price had changed since the publication of the brochure.

The regulator said that the advert was misleading because the laptop was not available at the advertised price at the time the advert was in circulation.

Dabs.com was told to make sure that prices stayed stable while a price-specific advert was in circulation, and was also told not to use the advert again.

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