Leading kitchen and bathroom retailers are using potentially misleading discount claims to lure homeowners into rushing to spend thousands of pounds, a Which? investigation has found.
The consumer champion analysed promotional offers for popular kitchen and bathroom retailers for a year between March 2018 and March 2019 – and found firms were using techniques including ‘hurry deals’, which might pressure customers into making a quick purchase and, in one case, a ‘sale’ launched after prices had been hiked at some point so that the sale price was actually equivalent to the typical pre-sale price.
Four brands featured in the investigation ran ‘offers’ under various guises on at least 361 days out of 365 – a practice that might have persuaded some shoppers to rush a purchase because they may believe the sale price is available for a limited time.
Which? is alerting Trading Standards to its findings and asking for these practices to be investigated. A retailer’s actions could be in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs) if they can be shown to be misleading, and likely to cause the average person to make a transactional decision they would not have made otherwise.
A separate complaint about one of the retailers has been made to the Advertising Standards Authority.
Which? is concerned that a lack of effective action taken to date by the authorities over these brazen practices is yet another example of how the current system of consumer enforcement is struggling to ensure people are adequately protected.
Out of the retailers in the investigation, Better Bathrooms, Victoria Plum and Victorian Plumbing all used prominent countdown clocks to promote various time-limited promotions during January and February 2019 – although each of these retailers was running other primary offers that were not time-limited.
For example, Victoria Plum ran two offers on 14th January 2019 – ‘up to 70% off January sale’ and ‘an extra 10% off sale prices’ on a countdown clock showing that the discount was ending in less than two days. When Which? checked again three days later the ’up to 70% off’ was still available but now customers could have got ‘20% off sale prices’ – twice the previous additional discount.
Although the countdown clock only applied to one of the two offers, Which? thinks consumers might have been misled into believing that the 70% off sale was ending, not just the additional discount.
Many of the companies that Which? investigated had at least one promotion on a lot – or even all – of the time. While promotions weren’t always for the same products, Wren Kitchens and Wickes had various deals on every single day from March 2018 to March 2019.
Wren ran a multi-buy offer for 50 per cent off when you purchased five or more kitchen units, although this was not promoted as being time-limited in any way. This had been in place for 246 days. For 49 days immediately before that, the offer was higher at 60 per cent. A half-price offer, without the multi-buy stipulation on the homepage, ran for 70 days before that.
Wickes ran a similar deal. For 199 days it offered 50 per cent off its Showroom kitchens if you bought five or more units.
Victoria Plum had a series of deals on for all but one day and Bathstore for 361 out of 365 days.
Which? also found one retailer promoting an “offer” that it believes did not offer a genuine saving to consumers because the company doubled the price of its kitchens prior to or around the time of the sale – the case that has prompted a complaint to the ASA.
Although Which? didn’t track whether, or how many, of the bathroom companies’ products changed each time a sale ended and a new one began, Which? is warning that constant sales might compel people to buy then and there, when there is likely to be another deal the very next day or shortly after. Running constant sales might also make it much harder to understand the true value of different kitchens and bathrooms.
Which? has concerns that the issues highlighted here point to an industry-wide issue that the consumer enforcement authorities should investigate.
Natalie Hitchins, Which? Head of Home Products and Services, said:
“A new kitchen or bathroom is likely to set you back thousands of pounds, so it’s unacceptable for retailers to be using potentially misleading tricks to make a sale.
“Our research suggests that this is an industry-wide issue. We want to see retailers being more transparent about their prices so that consumers aren’t misled into parting with their cash for a deal that might not be as good as it seems. If they don’t make improvements then trading standards and the ASA need to intervene.”
Which? advice to avoid misleading sales:
- Don’t feel pressured to buy if you’re not sure – take your time to make the right decision for you.
- Don’t take a headline offer at face value. Shop around and compare prices as you might find your dream kitchen or bathroom cheaper elsewhere.
- Make sure you read the small print to find out exactly when an offer will end, particularly when there is more than one deal.
- Search Which? to find out what ratings the experts gave to kitchen and bathroom brands.
- The data Which? looked at runs from March 2018 to March 2019, and covers bathrooms and kitchens from B&Q, Homebase and Wickes; kitchens from Ikea, John Lewis, Magnet and Wren Kitchens, and bathrooms from Bathstore and Victoria Plum. For Better Bathrooms, Soak and Victorian Plumbing, promotions were tracked from May 2018.
- Throughout January and February 2018 Which? checked the main bathroom retailers’ websites every few days and recorded promotions displayed on the homepage of the websites, as well as the terms and conditions. This included B&Q, Bathstore, Better Bathrooms, Homebase, Victoria Plum, Victorian Plumbing and Wickes.
- The year-long data Which? looked at from March 2018 to March 2019 was collected by Insight Retail Group, which records promotional messages on the big retailers’ websites on a daily basis. Insight Retail Group also runs price-comparison sites Kitchen-compare.com and Bathroomscompare.com and has commercial interests in the home improvement market.
- Which? didn’t track exactly whether, or how many, products changed as one sale ended and another began, particularly with regards to bathrooms.
- For both Wren and Wickes, the multi-buy offers were still running on 15 April 2019.
Rights of reply
- Victoria Plum said: “We work very hard to help customers get the great bathroom they want at low prices. Varied promotional and website experiences recognise that different customers have different needs. This is why we work closely with the Advertising Standards Authority to ensure all our promotions meet their guidelines.”
- Victorian Plumbing said: “The Committee of Advertising Practice has reviewed the countdown clocks on our site and it felt that customers could tell that they referred to a secondary promotion. We’re confident that our customers can easily discern sales information on our site but we will continue to assess the clearest way to present this.”
- Bathstore commented: “When our new management team were appointed in autumn last year, we transformed the promotional strategy for Bathstore. Our current offers focus on lower headline discounts and added value offers. Plus, our Trading Standards local authority has approved all our promotional campaign activity over the last six month.”
- Better Bathrooms, which has now gone into administration and been bought by Buy it Direct, but has not yet responded to our request for comment.
- Wren Kitchens disputes our findings and maintains that its perpetual multi-buy offer is to ensure economies of scale in production and not to entice or mislead consumers. It told us that it had prepared its 2018 and 2019 promotions in conjunction with the ASA and all relevant guidance.
- Wickes declined to comment.