OFT raises Groupon concerns

Groupon logoCharles Rex Arbogast/AP/Press Association Images

We all love a bargain. Even more, we all love a local, exclusive bargain, emailed directly to our inbox to tempt us. What we don't like is an endless barrage of deals that aren't quite what they seem, questionable advertising, and serious concerns over terms and conditions.

So the OFT's statement about Groupon makes for worrying reading.

OFT investigation

The Advertising Standards Authority referred the company to the Office of Fair Trading back in December, after it emerged that the company had overstepped the mark in its adverts an astonishing 50 times in a year. The OFT had actually already started looking into the company the previous July.

It's findings make grim reading. In a statement it said: "The OFT has specific concerns over practices involving reference pricing, advertising, refunds, unfair terms, and the diligence of its interactions with merchants."


The OFT said the company had agreed to adhere to the consumer protection laws in future, with a specific focus on certain areas. This includes the sorts of things that you would have hoped were already in place in any company. So, for example, reference prices (adverts that compare an original reference price against a sale price), including savings, should be accurate, honest and transparent.

The OFT also said Groupon must display all the details of the limitations clearly and on the same screen. It also wants the company to carry out an accurate, honest and realistic assessment of a merchant's ability to provide goods or services in the quantity or time frame suggested. This was partly in response to reports of some companies being overwhelmed with orders they were unable to deliver.

It also wants fair terms and conditions, and for refunds policies and cancellation rights to be operated in accordance with the Distance Selling Regulations.

In future

It says it will monitor performance on all these fronts, and said "Should evidence emerge of a breach of any of these undertakings, the OFT will consider appropriate measures, including applying to court for enforcement orders."

Groupon is saying all the right things now. It has been co-operating with the OFT, and Roy Blanga, UK managing director at Groupon, posted a blog on the website, apologising, and adding "We believe that the only way to build a company that lasts is to provide the best customer experience in the world, and it pains us when we fall short".

So is that enough? You have to ask why it has been allowed to get away with 50 transgressions in a year with just a rap on the knuckles.

Only time will tell whether the company can turn things around. But what do you think? Do you rate daily deals websites, or do you have your own concerns? Let us know in the comments.

Advertising's most sexist ads
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OFT raises Groupon concerns

"A woman is only a woman but a good cigar is a smoke". Only a woman? Feminists would take issue at the "only" adverb, and the idea that any human being of either gender is inferior to a cancer-inducing product from Benson & Hedges.

Don't blame the ad men completely. That ad tag line is actually the evil work of one Rudyard Kipling. From a poem he penned called "The Bethrothed".

Now this is a creepy ad: "I have created a playground for men's hands." Armando Ghedini created wigs "for other men who adore women". This wig was also wash'n'wear. Nice.

The thoughtful signor Ghedini had also designed a wig to be combed in any direction, "for men to tousle". Men, he said, become "inspired" by women who wore it and women, Ghedini added, were grateful.

VW advertising has often been self-deprecating and clever. In 1960s America their ads were phenomenally successful, persuading thousands of Americans to ditch large thirsty home-made offerings for the company's cramped, noisy but economical Beetle.

Their ads flattered the intelligence of the American middle class. But this ad depicing a bashed-up VW bug? "Sooner or later your wife will drive home one of the best reasons for owning a Volkswagen". Not their female customers, clearly. What were they thinking?

Similarly, Easyjet also thought that a pair of ample breasts would be enough to help ticket sales. This ad dates back to 2003 when George Bush, Dick Cheney and Tony Blair were getting very animated about those hard-to-find weapons of mass destruction.

This particular ad garnered around 200 complaints to the Advertising Council and also escaped any ticking off. And plenty of publicity of course. It all worked out beautifully for Easyjet. Tits away, Stelios.

Car manufacturers and cigarette companies are regular sexist offenders. Here Italian typewriter maker Olivetti peddles the idea that young women are passive, servants ready to transcribe boardroom minutes at a moment's notice.

Where are Olivetti now in the global brand firmament?. Join the Olivetti girls. At ease, ladies, please.

Melon distributor F.H.Hogue of California thought his melons were pretty buxom and wanted to spread the word. Ho-ho, Mr Hogue.

There are plenty more examples and we'll be looking at more anther time. In the meantime let's leave with a woman knowing exactly where she should be (in the home, honey).

Here is a 1970s shoe ad from a brand called Weyenberg. You may find it hard to track down a Weyenberg shoe today however.

However, not all car makers followed such a well-worn patronising path. Back in the 1970s Honda in the US reversed the idea that women always needed cars with simple, easy-to-drive automatic gearboxes.

Despite offering both a manual and auto gearbox, neither was "a women's car" Honda stated firmly. Note the jaunty hat and jeans. A stab at selling to the US lesbian community? Or an independent straight girl fed up with stereotypes. Good for Honda.


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