The home improvement retailer has been ordered to withdraw a misleading ad promoting savings on a kitchen range after the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received a number of complaints, including challenges raised by product tester and consumer pressure group, Which?
A promotion on Wickes’ website, seen in August and September 2018 advertised a number of claims for its Heritage Bone showroom kitchen, including ‘multi-buy 50% off showroom kitchen units when you buy 5+’, ‘10% off all kitchen products including installation’ and ‘up to 50% off kitchen installation’.
However, the ASA ruled that, despite the numerous references to ‘multi-buy’, all of the other text and imagery “made clear that what was being advertised was kitchens, as opposed to individual kitchen units”, meaning consumers would believe they were making a genuine saving against the price they would otherwise have paid for a full kitchen.
The biggest issue the advertising watchdog raised, however, was that Wickes had significantly increased the price of individual units on the day of the promotion. For example, a 300 mm High Base Line Unit for the Heritage Bone range was listed at a price of £159 from February 22, 2018 to August 15, 2018 and increased to £318 on the day of the promotion, effectively cancelling out any saving.
Similar price increases occurred on every unit across each range. Although Wickes said the 50% discount was not intended as a discount against a previous selling price, the ASA noted that a unit bought as part of the 50% off multi-buy offer cost the same as it had before the promotion began, and consumers would therefore not make a saving against what they would otherwise have paid for a full kitchen before the multi-buy offer was introduced.
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute’s (CTSI) Guidance for Traders on Pricing Practices stated, “If your proposed pricing practice explicitly or by implication indicates a saving against another price you must be able to satisfy yourself that the quoted saving is genuine and is therefore not unfair”.
As a result, the ASA upheld challenges from six complainants, including Which?. Explaining its ruling that the ad must not appear again in its current form, the ASA said: “We told Wickes Building Supplies Ltd not to mislead by basing discount claims on reference prices that were not likely to be meaningful for consumers. We told them not to base such claims on the cost of an individual unit where the ad was clearly promoting full kitchens and, in that context, consumers were unlikely to be interested in purchasing units singly.
“We also told them to ensure list prices were not altered in a way that gave the misleading impression that a genuine saving could be made when that was not the case.”
Wickes said it was too soon to conduct a detailed analysis of the performance of the offer but said that a small - but nonetheless significant proportion - of customers still purchased either single units or between two and four units for their kitchens. They provided a breakdown of week-by-week sales of kitchen units, and examples of possible configurations of kitchens made up of four units to the ASA as part of its investigation.
Which? head of home products and services, Natalie Hitchins said: “Today’s ruling indicates that this offer from Wickes should never have been run in the first place. If it, and other retailers, continue to play fast and loose with the rules, we urge Trading Standards and the ASA to intervene and send a clear message that these practices have to stop.”