An e-mail and a promotion on www.Groupon.co.uk, seen on 29 December 2012, offered a laser tooth whitening treatment:
a. The e-mail stated "Teeth: Laser Whitening Treatment for £59 at Naturawhite Discount 80% Price £59 ... View it". On clicking the "View it" link, readers were taken to the deal's page on the Groupon website.
b. The promotion stated "Laser Teeth Whitening Treatment for £59 at Naturawhite Dundee (80% Off) ... You save £241 ... Expires 30 March 2013 ... Original value verified 27 November 2012 at 11.14am ...".
The complainant challenged whether the savings claim was misleading and could be substantiated.
MyCityDeal Ltd t/a Groupon (Groupon) stated that unfortunately, during the validity of the deal, they became aware that Naturawhite had dropped the price of their teeth whitening service to a price considerably lower than the £300 they had advertised in the deal. When the price of the deal was verified in November 2012, Groupon confirmed that Naturawhite's website showed that the treatment was being offered for £300 and they provided a screenshot of the website, dated 2 November 2012. They also provided a screenshot, dated 27 November, of Naturawhite's online booking system which showed that the treatment was directly available for purchase for £300 before the deal went live.
Groupon said all deals were negotiated direct with their partners and that ads for all deals were approved by the relevant partner before they were published on the Groupon website. They also asserted that all partners signed a contract with Groupon, confirming that they had provided honest and truthful information, in order for the deal to go ahead – if any partners provided inaccurate information, they were in breach of their contract with Groupon. Groupon therefore believed that, at the time of approval, they could trust that Naturawhite were charging £300 for the treatment, and were very disappointed to see the price subsequently drop during the promotion. As a result, Groupon confirmed that they would not run any future deals with Naturawhite. They also said they had mass-refunded any customers who had purchased the deal and not redeemed their vouchers and that they were happy to consider further refunds for customers who felt they had been misled by the deal.
Groupon highlighted that since the deal had run they had been reviewing their own policies on pricing and discussing ways that they could make their system more robust in the coming months. They were regretful that in this instance they were not able to supply the ASA with any invoices from the partner which showed that the treatment had been sold at £300, but asserted that they had not set out to intentionally mislead consumers.
Groupon said although the original value had not been established with sales invoices, they believed that £300 was a reasonable value for a regularly priced teeth whitening treatment and that the figure did therefore have some parity with the general market price for a similar service. Groupon also provided links to a number of independent websites which they believed demonstrated that £300 for a teeth whitening treatment was common, and at the conservative end of a general selling price.
The ASA noted the screenshots provided which showed that before the deal was published on Groupon, Naturawhite were offering the treatment for £300. We also noted the web links Groupon had supplied, which they believed demonstrated that £300 was a reasonable price for a laser teeth whitening treatment and reflected the general market price for such a service. We considered, however, that in order to substantiate the savings claim, Groupon should have provided evidence, such as sales invoices or receipts, to demonstrate that before the offer was published, the treatment was generally sold at the advertised price. Because we had not seen any evidence to show that the partner generally sold the treatment at £300, we considered that the savings claim had not been substantiated, and concluded that it was misleading.
The claims breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 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), 3.17 3.17 Price statements must not mislead by omission, undue emphasis or distortion. They must relate to the product featured in the marketing communication. (Prices), 3.40 3.40 Price comparisons must not mislead by falsely claiming a price advantage. Comparisons with a recommended retail prices (RRPs) are likely to mislead if the RRP differs significantly from the price at which the product or service is generally sold. (Price comparisons), 8.1 8.1 Promoters are responsible for all aspects and all stages of their promotions. and 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. (Sales promotions).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Groupon to ensure that they held evidence to substantiate their savings claims in future.