Claims on www.halfordsautocentres.com/en-gb/Car-Servicing, stated "Car Service - save up to 50% on main dealer pricing!! We are offering great discounts on our car servicing - you can save up to 50% on main dealer service prices, even though our services are the same, and in many cases even more thorough than that [sic] of a dealership. We encourage every one of our customers to see what's covered in our car services when comparing us to other garages to check you are getting the same level of service we offer".
The claims "even more thorough" and "what's covered" linked to the advertiser's servicing menu which explained what they offered.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Ltd challenged whether the claim "Save up to 50% on main dealer pricing" was misleading and could be substantiated, because it did not make clear the basis of the comparison or take into account the class of vehicle or regional pricing variations. They were also concerned whether the advertiser was comparing like for like services.
Halfords Autocentres Ltd (Halfords) amended the ad to state "Car servicing - why pay up to 50% more at a main dealership? Main dealer pricing can be up to 50%* more expensive than the cost of our car servicing, even though in some cases we may cover more points on a service checklist than the dealer ... *Based on independent research of 190 dealerships carried out in May 2012".
Halfords said the research was carried out by a third party who arranged for a team of mystery callers, posing as potential customers, to contact 190 dealerships spread throughout the UK and obtain quotes for the price of a full service on a three-year-old vehicle. Data was collected for six different "segments" of vehicle size: micro, mini, compact, medium, large, and sports utility vehicle. Halfords explained that dealerships were randomly selected from a database but that a quota for each region (North, South, East and West) was fulfilled. Each caller was given information regarding a specific vehicle including the model and registration, engine size, fuel and mileage, and were asked to collect data from the dealers including the price of a full service, the checks carried out as part of the service, the service elements provided (such as a courtesy car) and any promotions offered. Halfords stated that the third party conducting the survey ensured that the vehicle make selected for each individual comparison matched each garage's franchisor. Therefore, a Ford garage would only be asked to provide a quote for a full service on a specific Ford model. Once Halfords had secured this information, they then matched the results attained from the survey with their nearest autocentre by postcode to ensure that they were comparing like for like from a geographical perspective.
Halfords also provided a table of the results they had collected. This table showed the date and time the call had taken place, the dealership's name, postcode and franchisor. It also showed the vehicle segment, the dealer's quoted price for a full service, Halfords' web price for a full service, the difference between these prices, and the name of the Halfords Autocentre geographically closest to the dealer in question.
The ASA understood that, from the data provided, Halfords had compared their prices for a full service against 190 individual dealers' prices. We noted that quotes were collected from dealers across the UK and were matched with the closest Halfords garage to account for regional pricing differences. Similarly, we acknowledged that a variety of vehicle sizes were used and that a dealer was always asked to provide a quote for a car manufactured by their franchisor. We understood that Halfords compared their web prices with the dealers' prices which had been quoted over the telephone. We noted, however, that the terms and conditions listed on Halfords' website stated "If a booking is made directly with the autocentre, either by telephone or in person, prices may differ". We also understood that the prices for a Halfords full service, as stated in the comparison table supplied, included a £30 discount which was available only if a service was booked online and for a limited time only.
We acknowledged that Halfords were willing to amend the claim further, but considered that in its existing form, the comparison Halfords had made between their own time-limited, online prices and the non-promotional prices quoted by the car dealerships surveyed was not made on a like-for-like basis. We therefore concluded that the claim was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
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.
Price statements must not mislead by omission, undue emphasis or distortion. They must relate to the product featured in the marketing communication.
Price claims such as "up to" and "from" must not exaggerate the availability or amount of benefits likely to be obtained by the consumer.
Marketing communications that include a comparison with an unidentifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, the consumer. The elements of the comparison must not be selected to give the marketer an unrepresentative advantage.
(Other comparisons) and
Marketing communications that include a price comparison must make the basis of the comparison clear.
CAP has published a Help Note on Retailers' Price Comparisons and a Help Note on Lowest Price Claims and Price Promises. (Price comparisons).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Halfords to ensure that in future if they made a comparative claim that was not on a like-for-like basis, they clearly communicated the significant differences between the products or services being compared and did not select the elements of the comparison to give themselves an unrepresentative advantage. We told them to consult CAP's Copy Advice team for guidance when making comparative claims in the future.