A promotion on LivingSocial, which appeared from 18 to 25 May 2012, stated (on 22 May 2012) "Focus Z-LASIK Laser Eye Surgery for Both Eyes £1,949 ... buy now! 50% SAVINGS ... 18 PURCHASED ... 2 days REMAINING ... Give the 'Buy Now' button a cheeky wink before the lids close on today's deal".
One complainant, who was sent a link to the offer by e-mail on 21 May at 9.05pm, challenged whether it was irresponsible to offer laser eye surgery as part of a limited time offer because it could encourage recipients to hurry into a decision to purchase the surgery.
LivingSocial Ltd said the deal had run for one week, from 18 to 25 May 2012, and a total of 49 deals were purchased (before refunds). They said that time allowed consumers to take whatever steps they wished in making a decision on whether or not to purchase the deal, including researching the procedure, discussing it with their doctor or optician, or indeed discussing the deal with Focus. They said they were aware of the sensitivity of running deals of that nature on a 'daily deals' platform, and had taken deliberate measures to ensure customers did not feel pressurised into making a snap decision on the deal. They said their standard change-of-mind cancellation policy applied to this deal, which meant that if a customer changed their mind within seven working days following the date on which they had issued the customer's voucher, they could obtain a full no-questions-asked refund.
They felt that customers buying the deal would be aware that that cancellation policy existed, so they did not have to psychologically or financially commit to the deal at that time, as they had seven working days from when the voucher was issued to make their final decision. They had given one refund to a consumer who had changed her mind during the seven-working day cancellation period and four refunds following consultation, which they felt showed that customers were not necessarily psychologically or financially committed to going ahead with the deal once they had made their purchase. They added that customers had had a total of up to 21 days to consider their decision, for example, a consumer who saw the deal on 18 May, purchased it on 24 May and received the voucher on 25 May, would have until 7 June (as it was during a bank holiday period) to change their mind and obtain a full refund.
They said that the deal incorporated a consultation and if a customer was found to be unsuitable for the treatment at consultation, a full refund would also be given. They said the ad detailed the number of deals that had been purchased, but that did not indicate the number of deals remaining and that meant consumers would not consider that there was a limited number of deals available.
The ASA acknowledged that consumers could obtain a refund for seven working days following the date on which their voucher was issued, which was the working day following the date of purchase, or following their consultation, if they were deemed unsuitable for treatment. Although we considered that the offer might attract some consumers who had already researched getting laser eye surgery, we understood the deal was not specifically targeted at those who previously considered having laser eye surgery.
We acknowledged that those consumers who saw the ad when it was first published had one week to consider taking up the offer before choosing to make a purchase, but that consumers who saw the deal towards the end of the week-long period of availability might only have had a day or so to decide to purchase the deal. Although we understood that consumers subsequently also had seven working days from the day after the voucher was issued in which to seek a refund, and that additional time might give consumers further opportunity to carry out more research, we noted that those opportunities were not available without buying the voucher first and considered that consumers buying the voucher would have already financially and mentally committed themselves to going ahead with a procedure.
Because we considered that the time-limitation element of the deal was likely to pressure consumers and hurry them into making a decision to purchase laser eye surgery, we concluded the ad was irresponsible.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 1.3 1.3 Marketing communications must be prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. (Responsible advertising) and 12.3 12.3 Marketers offering individual treatments, especially those that are physically invasive, may be asked by the media and the ASA to provide full details together with information about those who supervise and administer them. Practitioners must have relevant and recognised qualifications. Marketers should encourage consumers to take independent medical advice before committing themselves to significant treatments, including those that are physically invasive. (Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told LivingSocial that surgical procedures should not be offered for a very limited time only.