The website www.wickes.co.uk, seen in August and September 2018:
A page for a "Heritage Bone Showroom Kitchen", seen in August 2018, stated, "Price from: £2,086.00 Price shown includes multi-buy discount (Price based on 8 unit example)*". Text in a box underneath stated, "Multi-Buy 50% off Showroom Kitchen Units when you buy 5+". A line within the box separated that text from further text which stated, "Plus 10% off All Kitchen Products including installation Ends 28th August".
Another page, titled "KITCHENS", included an image of a full kitchen with red text boxes superimposed. The first box included text that stated, "Multi-Buy 50% off Showroom Kitchen Units* when you buy 5+". Text in the second box stated, "up to 50% off Kitchen installation*", with further text in a yellow box underneath that stated, "Ends 12th September". Text at the bottom of the page stated, "*Multibuy T&Cs: Showroom kitchen multi-buy offer applies when you buy 5 units or more. 50% off refers to Wickes kitchen showroom list price".
Six complainants, including Which?, challenged whether the claim "Multi-Buy 50% off Showroom Kitchen Units when you buy 5+" was misleading.
Wickes Building Supplies Ltd believed it was made clear throughout the ads that the '50% off' offer was a multi-buy promotion. They said the kitchens landing page was clearly headed 'Multi-Buy', with that being the first piece of information appearing on the page, directly above the discount claim. They said the 'Multi-buy' descriptor was in clear white font against a dark background, and that the same font, text colour and background colour were used as the rest of the ad, including the reference to the 50% discount. They believed the average consumer would read the offer as a single claim stating ‘Multi-Buy 50% off…’ and that the claim was then completed with wording clarifying that the multi-buy offer was ‘… 50% off Showroom Kitchen Units when you buy 5+*’, with the asterisk linked to text at the bottom of the page which reiterated that the offer was a multi-buy offer with the 50% discount being created from the list price for individual kitchen units.
Wickes said if a consumer clicked on the ad on the kitchens landing page, they were taken to a product page, providing prices and further details of individual kitchens. They said the claim, including the reference to ‘Multi-Buy’, was the focal point of the text relating to each kitchen - the average consumer, considering the advertising of a particular kitchen on the product page, could not avoid the reference to the offer being a multi-buy offer.
Within the same ad, they said the ‘from’ price quoted was also clearly qualified, directly underneath that price, to clarify that it related to an 8-unit example and therefore included the multi-buy discount (“Price shown includes multi-buy discount”). They said the product pages also included the same ‘Multi-Buy Offer T&Cs’ as the kitchens landing page.
Wickes said both pages made multiple further references to the ‘multi-buy’ nature of the offer, both in the body copy and in further qualifying language at the bottom of each page. By contrast, there was nothing on either page which the average consumer could take to imply that the multi-buy offer was, in fact, a time limited sale, in which prices were compared to a previous selling price for the entire kitchen shown in the ad, such as: slashed out pricing; a ‘was’/‘now’ comparison; a reference to a discount which was not introduced as a multi-buy discount; or reliance on small print to correct a potentially inaccurate reading of the discount claim.
Wickes said ‘Multi-buy’ offers were a common and legitimate sales mechanic and were well understood by consumers, particularly where the nature of the offer was fully explained. They also believed that their use of the multi-buy offer in relation to kitchen units was in line with market practice.
Wickes said they had a fixed cost base in connection with the sale of showroom kitchens, and, following a pricing review, it became clear that they could offer a genuine consumer benefit through the provision of savings incentives to customers purchasing larger kitchens. They said they had a strong incentive to encourage customers to make larger volume purchases, as the fixed costs apportioned to the price could be disproportionate in the context of smaller volume purchases.
Wickes said it was too soon to conduct a detailed analysis of the performance of the offer, but a small, but nonetheless significant proportion, of customers still purchased either single units or between two and four units for their kitchens. They provided a breakdown of week-by-week sales of kitchen units, and examples of possible configurations of kitchens made up of four units.
The ASA noted that both pages included the same claim: “Multi-Buy 50% off Showroom Kitchen Units when you buy 5+”. The 'kitchens' page included two pictures of fully-installed kitchens, and the Heritage Bone page also included an image of a full kitchen. While we recognised that the website included numerous references to the offer being a “multi-buy” and being dependent on buying five or more units, we considered that all of the other text and imagery made clear that what was being advertised was kitchens, as opposed to individual kitchen units. In that context, we considered that consumers would understand that they would be able to make a genuine saving against the price they would otherwise have paid for a full kitchen.
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute’s (CTSI) Guidance for Traders on Pricing Practices stated, “If your proposed pricing practice explicitly or by implication indicates a saving against another price you must be able to satisfy yourself that the quoted saving is genuine and is therefore not unfair”. It also made clear that where a retailer repeatedly used a reference price knowing that they had not previously sold a significant number of units, that price was less likely to be a genuine reference for a saving. The number of units sold was therefore likely to be an important consideration in determining whether such a reference price was genuine.
We noted Wickes’ argument that consumers would see the offer as simply offering a saving on the price per unit when five or more were bought. We also accepted that consumers would be familiar with multi-buy offers. However, we considered that multi-buy offers were typically made in circumstances where the offer incentivised consumers to buy more than they otherwise would in order to obtain a lower cost per item and better overall value. A multi-buy offer when buying five or more kitchen units did not incentivise consumers to buy more units than they otherwise would, because kitchens were customarily comprised of more than five units, as demonstrated by the data Wickes provided showing very few sales comprising four or fewer units, either before or after the multi-buy offer was introduced. We therefore considered that the price of a single unit was not valid in this context as a reference for a saving on a full kitchen, and that the claimed saving based on the showroom list price of a single unit did not represent a genuine saving for consumers.
We noted that Wickes had significantly increased the price of individual units on the day of the promotion. For example, a 300 mm High Base Line Unit for the Heritage Bone range was listed at a price of £159 from 22 February 2018 to 15 August 2018 and increased to £318 on the day of the promotion, effectively cancelling out any saving. Similar price increases occurred on every unit across each range. Although Wickes said the 50% discount was not intended as a discount against a previous selling price, we noted that a unit bought as part of the 50% off multi-buy offer cost the same as it had before the promotion began, and consumers would therefore not make a saving against what they would otherwise have paid for a full kitchen before the multi-buy offer was introduced. We considered that the claimed saving was also not genuine for that reason.
We therefore concluded that the claimed saving was misleading.
The ad 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), and 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).
The ad must not appear again in the same form.
We told Wickes Building Supplies Ltd not to mislead by basing discount claims on reference prices that were not likely to be meaningful for consumers. We told them not to base such claims on the cost of an individual unit where the ad was clearly promoting full kitchens and, in that context, consumers were unlikely to be interested in purchasing units singly.
We also told them to ensure list prices were not altered in a way that gave the misleading impression that a genuine saving could be made when that was not the case.