Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A website for Wren Kitchens Ltd, www.wrenkitchens.com, included a page headed "The Wren Standard". Text stated "We have assigned a value to each 'extra' that you get when buying from Wren and all of our competitors. For example, we have estimated that if your cabinet arrives fully assembled, there is an 'added value' of £20 because you do not have to spend the time and money putting it together yourself. On the other hand, a flat-pack cabinet would not get any added value for this section because a lot of time and effort is needed to put it together. We have compared our competitors against us and arranged them in order of who gives the most 'added value'. We feel our cabinets give the best value. We have been as open and transparent as possible with this information. We employ someone to constantly check our prices and make sure we are the most competitive in the market place" and "GET MORE WHEN YOU SHOP AT WREN KITCHENS".
A comparison table listed various features including "Fully Assembled Cabinet", "Part Assembled Cabinet", "Flat Pack Carcass", "Bond-X Glueing System" and "ABS 0.8mm Edge Banding". Each feature was given an "Extra Added Value (Maximum)" such as £20 for "Fully Assembled Cabinet" and £4 for "Bond-X Glueing System". The table listed six kitchen retailers, including Wren and B&Q, and gave them an amount for each feature, with some left blank. The bottom of the table totalled up the "Extra Added Value" for each retailer. The highest total was £101 for Wren, and B&Q's was listed as £81 for their 'Cooke & Lewis' range and £0 for their 'it' range. Text at the bottom of the table stated "WREN DELIVERING EXTRA VALUE".
B&Q plc challenged whether::
1. the comparison table was misleading; and
2. the comparison was verifiable.
1. Wren Kitchens Ltd (Wren) said there were a multitude of kitchen cabinets available but they believed that most kitchen retailers did not like to clearly identify both key features and the price. They said they had purchased cabinets from each of the competitors, had them professionally assembled and then installed in a 'comparison bay' in each of their stores, alongside their own cabinets. They said this enabled consumers to compare competitors' products and their products. They said that in the case of B&Q they offered two ranges of cabinets - 'Cooke & Lewis' and 'it' and these had both been compared separately in the ad. They said that although a range of fittings and door styles were available these would not affect the basic cabinet features compared in the ad. They believed their comparison table was logical, and that their approach was transparent.
Wren explained how they had assessed each of the features compared in the ad. In relation to "Fully Assembled Cabinet", "Part Assembled Cabinet" and "Flat Pack Carcass" they said theirs were the only cabinet range to be supplied fully assembled, and that both B&Q ranges were supplied flat packed for home assembly. They said there was significant cost in getting a tradesperson to assemble and fit a flat pack kitchen. In relation to "Bond-X Glueing System" they said all their competitors used a hot melt glue system, whereas they used an alternative glueing system. They said their system provided a much stronger bond and was far less susceptible to water penetration. They said they had valued this extra cost at retail value. In relation to "ABS 0.8mm edge banding" they said banding of this thickness was less likely to fail than banding 0.4 mm thick as in the case of Wickes and B&Q's 'it' range. They said that although B&Q's 'Cooke & Lewis' range had banding only 0.6 mm thick they had allocated it the full value of £4 anyway. In relation to "18mm MFC sides and shelves" they said that most cabinets had sides and shelves that were at least 18 mm thick and this was particularly important for flat packed cabinets. They said that B&Q's 'it' range was only 15 mm thick. They said they had shown the cost of the thicker board on all panels and shelves and grossed it up to retail cost. In relation to "Thickness and finish of backs" they said they had started by looking at B&Q's 'it' range as the back panel was only 4 mm thick, whereas the back on their products was 8 mm thick. They said they had awarded a higher value to B&Q's 'Cooke & Lewis' range and to Wickes than to themselves in this category as they have thicker backs, although they did not consider these were technically necessary. They had grossed the greater cost of thicker backs up to retail value. In relation to "Soft closing doors as standard" and "Soft closing drawers as standard" they had allocated the typical retail cost for these, or £10 and £30 respectively. They said all their competitors used these as standard, apart from B&Q in their 'it' range.
2. Wren said that each of their stores included a comparison area, where cabinets from each of their listed competitors were displayed having been assembled by professionals. They said they did not sell online and therefore customers had to visit a store to purchase their products. When in store their sales consultants could go through each feature of the cabinets and explain their relative importance. They said their website invited comments on the comparisons, but that they had not received any negative feedback from customers in relation to the comparative table.
B&Q believed the comparison table was misleading because it did not make clear which products were being compared, how the "extra added value" had been calculated and why the full value was not always allocated. The CAP Code stated that marketers must not mislead by presenting material information unclearly, unintelligibly or ambiguously, that they must hold documentary evidence to support objective claims and that comparisons with identifiable competitors must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, the consumer about either the advertised product or the competing product. We understood that Wren had calculated the "extra added value" based on the additional retail cost of purchasing products with these features. However, we had not seen evidence to support the figures, and also considered it was not made clear in the ad how these values had been calculated. In the case of the value relating to the assembly status of the cabinets, we considered it was misleading to attribute a "value" to the time of consumers in this way. In the case of the value relating to the glueing system we had not seen evidence to support their belief that their glueing system was superior, and had an added "value" of £4. We also considered the comparison table would be generally confusing to consumers because it referred to "value", which we considered that consumers would understand to relate primarily to price, and allocated specific monetary values to features, whereas it was in fact essentially listing whether or not various features were included in their and their competitors' cabinets. We concluded that, because the basis for the values given in the table was not made clear and had not been substantiated, the comparison table was misleading.
On this point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (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 3.33 3.33 Marketing communications that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, the consumer about either the advertised product or the competing product. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
The CAP Code stated that comparisons with identifiable competitors must objectively compare one or more material, relevant, verifiable and representative feature of those products. B&Q did not believe the comparison was verifiable because it did not contain enough information to allow consumers to verify for themselves the comparative information. We considered that the list of features such as the assembly status of the cabinets and the glueing system were required to be verifiable. Wren said that their stores included a comparison area where their sales consultants could explain this information. However, the ad did not highlight this as a means to verify the information and we also considered that the information should have been available to consumers without them having to visit a store, preferably on their website. Although it would be possible for consumers to verify some of the features by visiting their competitors' websites it was not always easy to locate this information and it did not appear to be possible for all the features listed. We therefore considered that Wren should have clearly explained how consumers could verify for themselves the features compared. We concluded that the comparison was not verifiable.
On this point 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) and 3.35 3.35 They must objectively compare one or more material, relevant, verifiable and representative feature of those products, which may include price. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Wren to ensure that the basis of comparative claims was made clear and supported by documentary evidence and, if making a comparison with identifiable competitors, it was verifiable.