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Bed-in-a-box brand Emma facing CMA probe amid pressure selling concerns

The competition watchdog is investigating bed-in-a-box brand Emma Sleep over concerns that it has misled consumers with pressure selling tactics. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it… View Article

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Bed-in-a-box brand Emma facing CMA probe amid pressure selling concerns

The competition watchdog is investigating bed-in-a-box brand Emma Sleep over concerns that it has misled consumers with pressure selling tactics.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it will examine whether the company breached consumer law by using countdown timers and claims about time limits to misleadingly imply that discounted prices would soon end.

According to a statement by the CMA, the investigation is the start of a wider focus on so-called Online Choice Architecture to tackle potentially harmful online sales practices, including pressure selling tactics such as urgent time-limited claims. These include countdown clocks, where sellers put pressure on shoppers to buy quickly, and eye-catching discount offers such as “50% off” claims when the real price reduction may not be as great as claimed.

CMA interim chief executive Sarah Cardell said: “With the rising cost of living, genuine deals are worth shouting about – but companies using misleading ‘sale’ prices or fake countdown clocks can put unfair pressure on people to buy and could break consumer law.

“The CMA is today reminding businesses they should not use urgency claims to mislead consumers and, if they do, they face the risk of CMA action.

“This investigation into Emma Sleep is just the start of our work into potentially misleading online claims and all sectors are under scrutiny.

“Companies should take note: look at your own practices and ensure they’re in line with the law.”

Earlier this year, the watchdog revealed that 71% of people shopping online have encountered misleading selling tactics.

Richard Collie, managing associate at UK law firm TLT, commented: “We’re all accustomed to brands giving us “nudges” in the form of scarcity claims, such as “Only 4  left!” or “25 customers are looking at this product right now”. The countdown clock that ticks down to the end of the offer is another classic example of this.

“The CMA views these kinds of practices as forms of ‘online choice architecture’ that can influence consumers’ decision-making when shopping online. While they aren’t unlawful per se, if a scarcity or urgency claim is inaccurate or gives a false impression of availability, this can raise serious issues from a consumer law perspective. These practices don’t need to be deliberately misleading – for example, dynamic “real time” claims around product availability can be affected by technical glitches which, if left undetected, could mislead consumers.

“The CMA has been clear for some time now that it sees so-called “dark nudges” or “dark patterns” as a key focus for it in terms of consumer protection enforcement. This case – which looks specifically at misleading countdown clocks – is further evidence that it is stepping up enforcement in this area.

“This is particularly important as the forthcoming Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill, which is likely to get its first reading in parliament in Spring 2023, will give the CMA new powers to impose multi-million pound penalties of up to 10% of global turnover on businesses that breach consumer protection laws.”

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