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ASA upholds Bathstore's complaint against Victoria Plum

Victoria Plum bathroom website March 2016 725 x 500

The ASA has upheld a ruling against a Victoria Plum advertising campaign which stated that its prices were "40% lower than Bathstore".

Bathstore complained about the advert, which appeared on 25th September 2015.

Text from the ASA ruling follows:

Complaint Ref: A15-318052 

Ad
A TV and website for the bathroom retailer Victoria Plum, seen on 25 September 2015:

a. The TV ad featured various bathroom products. The voice-over stated, “At Victoria Plum we deliver designer products at internet prices straight to your door. With prices up to 40% lower than Bathstore. Choose VictoriaPlum.com for our lowest price guarantee.” On-screen text stated “PRICES UP TO 40% LOWER THAN BATHSTORE”. Text at the bottom of the screen stated “Independent price check on comparable products, dimensions may vary, excludes clearance. For T’s & C’s of our Lowest Price Guarantee & details on price comparison visit www.VictoriaPlum.com”.

b. The website www.victoriaplum.com, stated “IT’S OFFICIAL, OUR PRICES ARE UP TO 40% LOWER THAN BATHSTORE”.

Issue
Bathstore challenged whether the claims “Our prices are up to 40% lower than Bathstore” in ads (a) and (b) were misleading and could be substantiated.

Response
Victoria Plum Ltd t/a VictoriaPlum.com said they had engaged an independent third-party company to match products on Victoria Plum’s and Bathstore’s websites and which was completed autonomously, without influence by Victoria Plum. They said they managed their own pricing, and checked Bathstore’s prices twice daily, to ensure a minimum of 10% of all matched products exceeded the 40% discount. They also said the price reports compiled by their third-party company were published on their website on a bi-weekly basis. Victoria Plum supplied the ‘matching philosophy’ from their third-party company which detailed how products were matched. Victoria Plum said 176 products were matched and that while all of them were cheaper than Bathstore, around 67 to 83 were at least 40% cheaper than an equivalent product. The number of products that were up to 40% cheaper fluctuated during the time the ads appeared due to Bathstore changing their own prices. Therefore, comparable stock was a relatively low proportion of their overall stock, but they believed the ads made that clear. Victoria Plum said the ad did not, nor could have referenced all products, that is, the claim did not relate to products that were not comparable.

Clearcast said in relation to ad (a) they had informed the agency that they would need to ensure that prices were continuously monitored so that they were responsive to any price fluctuations by Bathstore. They said because both companies tended to sell their own private label products, they asked to see what the like-for-like comparisons were based on. Clearcast said that they had been provided with a list of all products included in the comparison along with the methodology for the price comparisons from Victoria Plum’s independent price comparison agency.

Assessment
Upheld

The ASA considered that consumers would understand that the claims “[our] prices are up to 40% lower than Bathstore” in ads (a) and (b) to mean that while not all products would be at a lower price, a significant proportion of their products would be available for up to 40% less than the price offered by Bathstore for a similar product. We noted that on-screen text in ad (a) stated “Independent price check on comparable products”, and considered that the text “comparable products” was likely to be understood by consumers that while products may not be identical, they would be broadly comparable in terms of, for example, design, quality, materials and functionality.

We noted Victoria Plum’s third-party ‘matching philosophy’ which listed a wide range of bathroom products and while there were a few sub-categories which allowed for a specified amount of ‘tolerance’, or permissible limits of variation, the document stated that the majority of products had to ‘match’ for various features and we considered that using an independent organisation to match prices was a reasonable approach.

We acknowledged Victoria Plum’s pricing data. We understood that Victoria Plum’s website listed thousands of bathroom products, therefore 176 items represented a very small proportion of items overall. We considered that this number of products which Victoria Plum said was up to 40% cheaper than Bathstore was likely to contradict the overall impression created by the ads that a significant proportion of products would be cheaper than Bathstore at the quoted saving.

Because Victoria Plum’s ads suggested a significant proportion of their products were lower in price than comparable products from Bathstore, which was not the case, we concluded the claims were misleading and had not been substantiated.

Ad (a) breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 and 3.2 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Substantiation) and 3.33 (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).

Ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.33 (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).

Action
The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Victoria Plum Ltd not to exaggerate the proportion of items included in their comparative savings claims in future.

Source : ASA
www.asa.org.uk

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01 June 2016

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