The Wowcher website www.wowcher.co.uk, seen on 1 July 2019, featured an offer for a “Nectar Memory Foam Mattress – 365-Night trial*!”. Further text stated “FROM £279” and the ad featured a countdown clock underneath text which stated “Price Guaranteed For”, “Save up to 30%” and “Was £399 [struckthrough]”.
The complainant, who purchased the item and later understood that once the countdown clock had reached zero, it reset for a further four days and the product was offered at the same price of £279, challenged whether the ad misleadingly implied the price would revert to the higher price of £399 once the countdown was over.
Wowcher Ltd said their platform allowed merchants to list products and services at discounted prices. They said that through the period a product was listed on their platform the merchant had discretion, in consultation with Wowcher, to adjust the deal price and that deal price changes had been made on their platform over 2500 times in the last month. They said that the purpose of the “Price Guaranteed For” countdown timer was to inform customers of the period through which they could guarantee that a product’s deal price would remain the same on their website. They did not believe it claimed, and did not intend the timer to claim, that the product listing would expire, that it would revert to the ‘was’ price or that it would definitely change at the end of the period as they did not know whether it would change. Wowcher said that historically they had seen customers express dissatisfaction that a product’s price had changed without notice and the purpose of the clock was therefore to give consumers reassurance that the price would remain valid for at least the duration of the countdown timer.
They said they were well known among their audience base as a discount retailer and as such did not sell goods or services at full price as they believed it would fundamentally compromise consumers’ perception of their brand. They therefore believed that it was unlikely consumers would assume that any product on their platform would change to a merchant’s full selling price at the end of the countdown timer. Wowcher said they were not aware of any prior complaints from consumers who had inferred from the ‘Price Guaranteed For’ clock that the deal price would be changed to the merchant’s selling price at the end of this period. Over the last year the countdown clock had been seen approximately 50 million times, which implied a very low complaint rate. However, to eliminate any potential confusion they proposed removing the strikethrough ‘was’ price shown on deals with a countdown timer and to update the FAQs section on their website to clarify the purpose of the timer. They also said they would include a pop-up box on the countdown timer itself to outline its purpose.
The ASA considered that consumers were likely to understand from the countdown clock, that was seen above text which stated “Price Guaranteed For” and alongside the text “Was £399 [struckthrough]” and “Save up to 30%”, that the discounted price claim of “FROM £279” was a time-limited offer and that once the countdown had completed, the product would be offered at the usual selling price of £399.
Notwithstanding Wowcher’s intended use of the countdown clock, we understood that the product did not return to its usual selling price after the countdown had finished, in line with consumers’ expectations of the offer. Instead, the discounted price was still available and the offer was therefore not genuinely time limited. While we welcomed Wowcher’s willingness to ensure greater clarity for consumers, we did not consider those suggested changes to their FAQs, the addition of pop-up text and the removal of the struckthrough price to override the impression that the product would revert to a higher price after the countdown had finished. For those reasons, we concluded that the use of the countdown clock was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 8.17.4.e (Significant conditions for promotions).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Wowcher Ltd to ensure that their future advertising did not misleadingly imply that discount offers were time-limited, for example by using a countdown clock, if that was not the case.