Online auction site eBay was wrong to claim that it was 25% cheaper than high street shops advertising watchdog the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has said. The company's own research did not back that claim, it said.
EBay ran poster adverts proclaiming: "GUESS WHAT? 25% CHEAPER THAN THE HIGH STREET ON BRAND NEW ITEMS". The advert's small print said: "Figure obtained by comparing the average sold price (including P&P) of 288 new products on eBay.co.uk with the price in mainstream retail stores. In respect of each product, prices were obtained in 6 different retail stores and the average price was taken".
The ad was the subject of a complaint which claimed that the comparison it made was unclear.
The ASA has ruled that the comparison breached its rules on truthfulness. EBay's claim was based on the average prices of products in 12 categories, but the ASA said that this was not an accurate enough comparison.
"We noted the comparison was based on 12 different sectors and that an average had been taken of the price difference of all products in those sectors," it said. "We noted…that, because an average had been taken of all the stores prices, it was possible that one store could have been regularly cheaper than eBay, or regularly much closer in price to eBay."
"We also considered that there were product sectors not included in the comparison that consumers might expect had been included; for example, furniture, garden goods, luggage, desktop computers and toys and games had not been included in the comparison, but the ad did not make that clear," said the ruling.
The ASA said that the results of the research were not sufficient to back up eBay's claim. "We considered that, although it might be the case that eBay was cheaper than some high street stores for some new products, the evidence was not sufficient to support such an absolute claim that eBay was cheaper than all high street stores for all new products," it said.
The ASA recognised that the ad's small print clarified the position but said that this clarification was not prominent enough.
"We considered that readers were likely to infer from the headline claim that they could expect a new item purchased on eBay to be 25% cheaper than one purchased in the high street on every occasion," it said. "Because the small print was of insufficient size to avoid being overlooked, and because it contradicted the main message of the headline, we considered that the ad was likely to mislead."
The ASA said that it had "told eBay to ensure they held robust evidence to support comparative claims in future".