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Online retailers warned by CMA of ‘red lines’ over pressure-selling tactics
29 March 2023

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has written to online retailers to warn them about its “red lines” on urgency and price reduction claims such as “10 people are watching this now,” “Hurry, today only!” and countdown timers for deals.

Such claims can be acceptable if true, but the CMA is warning they will breach the law if they are false or misleading or place unfair pressure on consumers.

The letter reads: “These claims have a legitimate place when they alert consumers to genuine special offers or provide helpful information about current selling conditions.

“However, we have become concerned about claims that may mislead or put unfair pressure on consumers in the UK.

“Such claims may be illegal under consumer protection regulations, harm consumers by distorting their behaviour and put fair-dealing businesses at a disadvantage.”

The CMA is inviting consumers to report online rip-offs via a new digital reporting form.

The Online Rip-Off Tip-Off campaign, fronted by Martin Lewis Money Show co-presenter Angellica Bell, aims to crack down on practices that could break the law and encourages shoppers to be aware of online scammers.

The campaign aims to enable consumers to spot and avoid misleading online sales tactics and to report businesses that engage in them.

The tactics include pressure selling, hidden charges, subscription traps and fake reviews, which are all designed to “mislead and push people to part with their cash online”.

A survey of 3,700 UK adults for the CMA found that 67% say cost-of-living pressures have made them more desperate to find the best deals, while 71% believe they are “saving money” by purchasing deals that are on offer – some of which may not be genuine.

It also revealed 24% of consumers have fallen victim to “sneaky” online sales tactics, while 23% did not realise that tactics such as “15 mins left of sale” or “buy now” can sometimes be false or misleading.

Some 68% thought these types of misleading tactics should be banned.

Bell said: “Some online businesses are using sneaky sales tactics to make us part with our money when household budgets are already stretched.

“We all feel the pressure of securing bargains, making us more susceptible to being ripped off. It’s frustrating when this happens and it’s time we call out these online retailers and report them to the CMA.”

CMA senior director for consumer protection, George Lusty, said: “Now more than ever, every penny counts and the CMA is concerned that some businesses are using underhand tactics designed to part shoppers from their cash.

“This poll is just the tip of the iceberg as we believe the true number of victims of these rip-offs is much higher as they are often extremely difficult to spot.

“That’s why businesses using urgency and price reduction claims need to consult the CMA’s new advice. It outlines what businesses need to do when designing their online shopping experiences to be sure they comply with the law.”

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