CMA exposes online shopping rip-offs with 23red blitz

cmaNearly three-quarters (71% ) of UK consumers say they have been targeted by misleading marketing tactics while shopping online, including hidden charges, subscription traps, fake reviews and pressure selling techniques.

So says a Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) report, published to support a new consumer campaign “The Online Rip-Off Tip-Off”, designed to help shoppers spot and avoid misleading online practices that could result in them being ripped off.

With almost one-third of all retail purchases now taking place online, after the pandemic fuelled a surge in Internet shopping, the CMA says it has become increasingly concerned about the impact of these “sneaky” sales tactics on consumers.

The CMA research shows that these practices, which are carefully designed to manipulate shoppers, can lead to wasted time and money, as well as anxiety and stress, and so cause significant financial and emotional harm.

It reveals that 71% of people shopping online have encountered these tactics, and 61% described their experience as negative. This is exacerbated by the fact they are often hard to spot and people do not know how to avoid them.

Of those who have experienced misleading online practices, the biggest concern was about hidden charges (85% of respondents), followed by subscription traps (83%), fake reviews (80%) and pressure selling (50%).

Many respondents reported that they had wasted money on a disappointing product or experience, spent cash they could not afford to or wasted time trying to undo the harm caused.

Some 85% of those questioned believed that businesses using such practices are being dishonest with their customers, with 83% being less likely to buy from them in the future.

To tackle this, and further support its enforcement work, the CMA is launching its “The Online Rip-Off Tip-Off” campaign, fronted by TV presenter and consumer champion Angellica Bell, which translates the online marketplace into the real world, to highlight how to spot and avoid sneaky sales tactics.

Devised by agency 23red, the activity spans PR, paid, digital, social media and broadcast channels and has the support of Citizens Advice, to whom consumers can report problems with misleading practices that they have encountered online.

CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli explained: “As online shopping grows and grows, we’re increasingly concerned about businesses using misleading sales tactics, like pressure selling or hidden charges, to dupe people into parting with their cash.

“None of us would accept these tactics in the real world. But we might not realise how much they influence what we buy online. So, we’ve launched “The Online Rip-Off Tip-Off” to help hand the power back to shoppers.”

Coscelli insists the CMA is continuing to crack down on practices that could break the law, such as fake reviews, but that to tackle the problem from all angles, it is vital shoppers are armed with the tools they need too.

He concluded: “It’s only when we all know what these tricks are, and how they are designed to manipulate and mislead, that we are better equipped to avoid them.”

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