Claims on the website www.pcworld.co.uk, related to warranties for PC base units included, in a table that compared two plans under the heading, "Whatever Happens Care Plan Premier", "Next day collection … Call before 3pm".
The complainant challenged whether the claim that the Whatever Happens Care Plan Premier provided "Next day collection …" was misleading and could be substantiated.
PC World believed the complaint to be related to a contract dispute, rather than being an advertising issue. They said the complainant's plan was subject to a detailed terms, conditions and exclusions contract, which had been the subject of previous correspondence between the complainant and PC World following a repair requested for his computer. They said that the complainant had also used the service on previous occasions with no cause for complaint and there had been no breach of contract.
PC World said their website was always changing and that included the manner in which their ‘Whatever Happens’ products were described and sold. They said it had been altered both before the complainant saw the website claims and since, and that the benefits included with the support agreements were also subject to change over time. They said the benefits to which a customer was entitled were those applicable at the time of purchase and were explained in ads that appeared at the time and in the documentation consumers received when they signed up. The complainant had signed up before the existence of the products named Care Plan, when the product was known only as Whatever Happens Premier, and when the service offered was advertised differently, as "Next day courier collection ... Call before 3 pm". PC World said the newer Care Plan product had different benefits, for example 'clever remote fix' and 'loan laptop on PC base unit repairs'.
PC World said that when the complainant contacted them on the occasion in question, it was noted that his PC would be dropped off at a store and no dissatisfaction was recorded. Other customers who lived in the same area had called later that same day, however, and had their items collected the next day, as advertised. They provided data related to those collections, including the date and time of the bookings, and said that while they could not comment on the details of the call that led to the complainant taking his PC to a store, because there was not a detailed record of the discussion, it was clear that next day collection slots were available at the time of his call. They said the data showed that the calls were received on the same day as the complainant's call, which meant by definition that the items were collected the next day, and they had therefore shown that the complainant's item could have been collected the next day.
PC World said the complaint was based on a single experience of using the service, and was therefore a contractual issue. There was no reason to believe the service had been misleadingly advertised generally. They said the data, which was directly extracted from their systems, was sufficient to demonstrate that product collections, of which there were 23 in the same area, were booked for the next day and that the appropriate resources were therefore in place to provide the advertised service to the complainant. PC World said they were also in a position to substantiate the claim more generally but did not wish to provide more evidence, because they believed there were no grounds for a general challenge to the claim given the specific and contractual nature of the dispute and because they believed it was disproportionate.
The ASA noted that the information PC World submitted was extracted from their systems and acknowledged that it provided an indication of the situation in relation to that 'snapshot' of customers. We noted the evidence stated the collection date, the date and time the calls were received and the geographical area. We considered, however, it was not sufficient to demonstrate that calls that requested collections of items covered by a plan were received at the dates and times referred to or when the collections were completed. Nevertheless, we also considered data, which related to calls received on only one day and in one area was not sufficient to demonstrate that consumers with the advertised care plan generally had their items collected the next day when they called before 3 pm. For the reasons given, we considered the claim had not been substantiated and therefore concluded that the ad breached the Code.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told PC World to ensure they were in a position to substantiate their objective claims in future.