A promotion on www.johnlewis.com, seen in November 2016, advertised an Apple Watch at £249 in a price match. The promotion coincided with a prominent announcement on the home page, which stated "BLACK FRIDAY EVENT - Friday 25 - Monday 28 November - We've lowered hundreds of our prices this weekend. Check our offers online and in store - NEVER KNOWINGLY UNDERSOLD SINCE 1925". Text further down, the home page stated "PRICE MATCH - Today we're matching a competitor's promotion". A "Shop now" button linked to the product pages.
The complainant, who found the Apple Watch was listed as out of stock when she attempted to buy it at the price match price, but that it was available the following day at full price, challenged whether the promotion had been administered fairly.
John Lewis Partnership plc said the offer was not a planned promotion but a reactive Price Match based on competitor activity which had resulted in an unprecedented increase in sales. They supplied spreadsheet information which showed their total stockholding (which included availability in their central distribution network, online and in stores) before, during and after the Price Match. Regarding online availability specifically, they said their systems did not give them accurate by-the-minute stock information, but they would know the number of products they held at the start of the day. They would then see the rate of sales as orders came in and, in this case, made a decision to remove the product from sale on their website as they were unsure whether they had enough stock to fulfil demand on that day. They said the product returned back to full price the following day because the competitor's promotion had ended and appeared as ‘out of stock’ on their website until it was made available online again on Tuesday 29 November. They agreed that the online availability of the item was perhaps removed earlier than it could have been, but said the decision was made in good faith in the context of significant sales uplifts on Black Friday (25 November 2016), which was now their busiest day of the year.
The ASA noted that the term "PRICE MATCH" was used on the home page of www.johnlewis.com, in relation to matching a competitor's promotion. Because in this context the price match was linked to a time-limited promotion, we considered that the promotional marketing rules applied.
The CAP Code stated that promoters must conduct their promotions equitably, promptly and efficiently and be seen to deal fairly and honourably with participants and potential participants. Promoters must avoid causing unnecessary disappointment.
The ASA considered that the rate at which a product sold was likely to increase when the price was lowered temporarily, and that there would therefore be an increased risk that it would sell out. We acknowledged that the offer arose from John Lewis' Price Match policy rather than a price promotion they had planned. However, while we acknowledged the surrounding circumstances, we considered John Lewis' action to make a product unavailable on their website while their competitor's promotion was still running denied online consumers the opportunity to purchase at the Price Match price, despite John Lewis still having stock available.
We considered John Lewis had not conducted the promotion fairly, resulting in unnecessary disappointment. We therefore concluded that the promotion had breached the Code.
The promotion breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 8.2 8.2 Promoters must conduct their promotions equitably, promptly and efficiently and be seen to deal fairly and honourably with participants and potential participants. Promoters must avoid causing unnecessary disappointment. (Promotional marketing).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told John Lewis Partnership plc to ensure they dealt fairly with consumers in future. We told them to avoid causing unnecessary disappointment and not to withhold availability of promotional stock.