The Competition & Markets Authority’s Consumer Director, Jen Dinmore, explains how the CMA is raising awareness of ‘sneaky’ online sales tactics.
This is a guest article by the Competition & Markets Authority. All views expressed are its own and not necessarily shared by Which?.
With almost one-third of all shopping now taking place online after the pandemic fuelled a surge, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has become increasingly worried about the impact of ‘sneaky’ sales tactics on consumers.
“The Online Rip-Off Tip-Off” is a new consumer facing campaign from the CMA, fronted by TV presenter and consumer champion Angellica Bell. It features advice for everyone on how to spot and avoid harmful misleading online sales practices.
One of the side effects of the pandemic is that more people than ever before are shopping online. Misleading online sales practices can be particularly harmful for those with mental health or other vulnerabilities.
New CMA research reveals that, of those polled these numbers of people have reported that they’ve experienced misleading online tactics, 85% were concerned about hidden charges, followed by subscription traps (83%), fake reviews (80%) and pressure selling (50%). To help everyone better spot and avoid shady online practices our campaign features the following top tips.
How can I avoid subscription traps?
✅ Check out how to leave as well as sign up to a subscription. Is it a simple ‘click to cancel’ or is it more complicated, e.g. will you have to phone the company to cancel?
✅ Set a reminder to review your subscription before the next billing date or the end of any trial period
✅ Look beyond any introductory offer for ongoing payments and terms – when will you have to pay and how much will it cost?
✅ Do you have to provide payment card details? If yes – stop and ask why
✅ Check your bank/payment card statements regularly for unexpected payments and if you see a charge you didn’t expect, contact your bank, or card issuer for help
✅ If you have signed up to a subscription by mistake or after a ‘free’ trial, complain to the company concerned
How can I avoid pressure selling?
✅ Always check at least two websites before buying; it pays to shop around
✅ Think carefully before you pay. You might want to check the purchase with a friend/family member or sleep on it and come back tomorrow
✅ Browse in incognito mode on your web browser to see if the countdown timer or clock on the sale has changed
✅ Download a sales or price comparison/tracking app to see how prices change
✅ Ignore ‘lots of people are looking at this’ messages
✅ Use the size of retailer as a guide on product availability – larger retailers are usually less likely to run out
✅ Lots of retailers have multiple sales a year – don’t be pressured into buying now, there will likely be other sales later
✅ Plan what you want to buy in advance to avoid being pressured
How can I avoid hidden charges?
✅ Treat the original/headline price with caution – if it is low, it might be designed to lure you in
✅ Watch out for any compulsory extra fees added in during the purchase process
✅ Think carefully before you pay – check the basket or total price for unexpected costs before buying
✅ Shop around – if you’re not sure about the final total price check out other sites
How can I avoid fake reviews?
✅ Look at negative as well as positive reviews
✅ Check the dates of the reviews – be cautious if they are old or if they were all published close together
✅ Look out for patterns or repeated phrases in reviews – it may indicate they were written by the same person
✅ Be cautious of very high percentages of 5-star reviews, If it’s too good to be true it probably is. Treat overwhelmingly positive reviews with caution
✅ Does the review contain specifics about the product/service experience rather than just using general terms like ‘Brilliant’ or ‘Fantastic’? Real reviews often talk about specifics of the products, such as the quality or price
✅ Read reviews of other products/services by the same reviewer
✅ Look out for verified purchase reviews – these are reviews of purchases the retailer can confirm were bought on its own site
Your views on sneaky sales tactics
What’s your experience of online sales practices? Have you found any misleading and how did that impact you?
This was a guest article by the Competition & Markets Authority. All views expressed were its own and not necessarily shared by Which?.
We’ve repeatedly found that shoppers are at risk of being misled online by businesses using dubious tactics, such as fake reviews, that result in people being ripped off and often ending up with poor quality products that don’t live up to expectations.
The government has set out plans to tackle some of these exploitative online practices as part of its consumer and competition reforms and should introduce new laws in this year’s Queen’s Speech to banish these practices as soon as possible.