/ Shopping

‘Hurry, deals must end soon!’ We’ve heard it all before

Man running with clock

Online shops – like any shops – employ a range of tricks and tactics to get you to spend more. One of these tactics is using ‘time limited’ offers – but are the deadlines they give always honest?

Have you ever been sent an email that says ‘sale ends today’, or ‘less than 48 hours left’, in order to get you to make a snap decision and buy that patio set?

We signed up to emails from online shops to see what offers we received and whether these were really what they seemed. And the answer is that often they’re not.

Hurry deals

For instance, we received an email from lastminute.com that stated ‘Up to 30% off hotels – hurry sale ends… 27 May’ This was followed by a sale in which some of the hotels were cheaper than during the first offer. For instance, a hotel in Rome dropped from £182 a night to £116 a night.

Argos sent us an email saying ‘Hurry, deals must end soon’, including a third off selected garden furniture. But the patio set we checked was cheaper after the deal ended, dropping from £349.99 to £279.99.

You can read our full article about online retail tricks in the Which? magazine archive.

The rules

In some instances, these sorts of emails could be breaching the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs). That’s if the shop’s actions can be shown to be misleading and likely to cause the average consumer to make a shopping decision they wouldn’t otherwise have made.

They could also potentially break the Committee of Advertising Practice code. This says you shouldn’t change closing dates unless unavoidable. If you do you should ensure customers who had the original deal aren’t disadvantaged.

Argos and Lastminute.com respond

We asked Argos and Lastminute.com about these offers and they said:

Argos: ‘We always strive to ensure that our marketing and advertising is compliant with all applicable legislation and codes of practice. We will share this information internally as part of a review into our processes.’

Lastminute.com: ‘The second offer was not advertised publicly on our website, and we used a different selection of hotels – only 5% of the hotels that appeared in the first promotion also appeared in the second.’

Do you act on email offers? And have you ever felt caught out by them?


The do-it-yourself retailer Wickes have been doing this very thing over on ITVPlayer adverts.

The first advert said “hurry, extra 10% off ends 13th July”, then a new advert said the start of August, then the date has just been changed AGAIN to the end of August.

I tweeted Which about this including the screen shots. Pretty surprised you didn’t put it in this blog.

Try BT with half price broadband offers – one follows another. DFS sofa sales? Homebase sales? We seem to think that “sales” offer bargains. They used to when shops genuinely cleared out old stock, but now they buy in “special purchases” for a “sale”. These professionals know how to extract money from your wallet.

I plan in advance and keep an eye on prices. With any luck a genuine discount will turn up.

This is a very common tactic employed in many places, not just retailers.

Try the publishing houses Canonbury Publishing and Agora Lifestyles. They thrive on pushing their products with time limited offers or a small number of places available for their products.

Only once have I have found that one of the closing deadlines was genuine.

My attitude is “So what?”. I let the deadline pass perfectly happily if I did not want the product in the first place; the only times when I have responded is when I wanted what was on offer and in those cases I felt pressurised in case the offer disappeared.

So I suppose these tactics work.

I’ve seen it in supermarkets too and observed people falling for these false time limited offers.