Popular retailers ‘misleading consumers with kitchen and bathroom sales’

A number of kitchen and bathroom retailers are using “potentially misleading” discount claims to lure homeowners into rushing to spend thousands of pounds, a watchdog has claimed.

Which? said firms were using techniques such as “hurry deals” which could pressure customers into making a quick purchase.

Retailers’ use of constant deals could also lead to customers making buying decisions “then and there” and making it harder to determine the true value of a kitchen or bathroom, the consumer group warned.

Four brands included in the investigation ran “offers” under various guises on at least 361 days out of 365 – a practice Which? said might have persuaded some shoppers to rush a purchase because they believed the deal was available for a limited time.

Out of the retailers in the investigation, Better Bathrooms, Victoria Plum and Victorian Plumbing all used prominent countdown clocks to promote various time-limited promotions during January and February 2019, although each of these retailers was running other primary offers that were not time-limited, Which? said.

Victoria Plum ran two offers on January 14 – “up to 70% off January sale” and “an extra 10% off sale prices” – on a countdown clock showing that the discount was ending in less than two days.

However, when Which? checked again three days later, the “up to 70% off” offer was still available, but customers could also get “20% off sale prices” – twice the previous additional discount.

Although the countdown clock only applied to one of the two offers, Which? said consumers might have been misled into believing that the 70% off sale was ending, not just the additional discount.

Many of the companies that Which? investigated had at least one promotion on a lot of the time – or even all of the time. While promotions were not always for the same products, Wren Kitchens and Wickes had various deals on every single day from March 2018 to March 2019.

Wren ran a multi-buy offer for 246 days for 50% off when a customer purchased five or more kitchen units, although this was not promoted as being time-limited in any way. For 49 days immediately before that, the offer was higher at 60%, and another half-price offer without the multi-buy stipulation on the homepage ran for 70 days before that.

Wickes ran a similar deal offering 50% off its showroom kitchens for 199 days for those who bought five or more units.

Victoria Plum ran a series of deals on all but one day, while Bathstore also ran deals on 361 out of 365 days.

Which? also found one retailer promoting an “offer” that it believes did not offer a genuine saving to consumers because the company doubled the price of its kitchens prior to or around the time of the sale, prompting the watchdog to make a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Which? said it had asked Trading Standards to investigate its findings, noting that a retailer’s actions could be found to have breached Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs) if they could be shown to be misleading, and likely to cause the average person to make a transactional decision they would not otherwise have made.

Natalie Hitchins, Which? head of home products and services, said: “A new kitchen or bathroom is likely to set you back thousands of pounds, so it’s unacceptable for retailers to be using potentially misleading tricks to make a sale.

“Our research suggests that this is an industry-wide issue. We want to see retailers being more transparent about their prices so that consumers aren’t misled into parting with their cash for a deal that might not be as good as it seems.

“If they don’t make improvements then trading standards and the ASA need to intervene.”