Fairytale offers on electricals

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    As the sales get underway, and shops rush to entice you with big savings, our latest investigation reveals some of these offers actually deliver little or no real savings.

    We tracked the prices of electrical goods over the course of six months at Amazon, Argos, Currys and John Lewis and found a number of ‘deals’ where the savings either didn’t exist or were much lower than claimed. For example, Argos claimed that you were saving almost £200 on one Nikon camera, but you were actually saving £9 compared with the previous month. Amazon sold a Canon camera at £959, claiming you were saving £280 compared with the RRP, but Canon had the typical selling price as £959 – so you weren’t saving anything.

    And there’s no doubt these offers are tempting. Six in 10 of you told us that you’d reconsider what you were buying if you saw an offer on another similar product. Around three in 10 of you have bought something you didn’t intend to because of an offer, and four in 10 wait for offers before buying.

    But our findings show that you could be better off seeking out the cheapest price and ignoring the ‘offers’ altogether.

    Aren't there strict rules about special offers?
    There is government guidance about special offers and this says that a product shouldn’t generally be discounted for longer than it was at that higher price. It should ordinarily be sold at that higher price for a minimum of 28 days. Shops should also compare any offer price with the price that they last sold it at. However, retailers are allowed to sidestep this guidance as long as they display a statement or sign explaining the offer terms – such as when it was last sold at the higher price. If shops don’t comply with government guidance on special offers, they could also be in breach of consumer law.

    We showed the dodgy offers we uncovered in this investigation to a Which? consumer lawyer and, while many could be seen to comply with the guidance, we think that consumers would too often still be left thinking they were making a bigger saving than they actually were. In some instances this is because the guidance lets shops ignore almost all of these criteria by using a sign to explain the offers – a method Currys used during our six months of tracking. In other cases it’s hard to say categorically whether or not a practice is in line with the guidance – so the companies can get away with these ‘offers’ without necessarily breaking the law. However, regardless of the technicalities, we don’t think these offers follow the spirit of the guidance and we don’t think the savings claimed are genuine.

    The Trading Standards Institute is currently reviewing these rules, and we’re feeding into its consultation to try to ensure that consumers get a fairer deal in future.

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