Tomorrow is ‘Black Friday’, when big retailers here offer up what are advertised as big savings on tech products. Some of it is very, very iffy. That 40pc saving being quoted on a telly, laptop or camera? Try 10pc. Or 0pc.
For example, Harvey Norman is selling Sony’s RX100 camera in a “Black Friday” deal for €429, claiming it “was €469”. But its normal price has been €429 for months, going back as far as May. A spokeswoman defended the ‘sale’, saying that the higher price quoted was “the RRP” and that “other retailers” still sell it at that price.
Similarly, PC World had priced Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 laptop (with Core i5 processor and 128GB hard drive) at €1,129 in its current “Black Tag” discount sales event. That’s exactly the same price it was in the summer. (Upon being contacted by this newspaper about the item, PC World has now removed it from inclusion in the sale.)
Argos, meanwhile, is offering Panasonic’s Lumix TZ60 camera for €259 which “was €369”. But in August, its regular price was €309, making today’s claimed discount quite a bit slimmer than appearances suggest.
But those are nothing compared to the spoofery around claimed discounts on televisions. “We may take 30pc or 40pc off a TV’s first published price,” a spokesman from one of the big retail chains told me. “That doesn’t mean it’s 40pc off the price a few weeks before it went on sale. TV prices are always changing anyway.”
In other words, a TV’s first listed price in March or April (or even earlier) may have been €1,000. Now, as it comes to the end of its shelf life in November, it is €600. But it has also been listed in the same shop as €900, €800 and €700 at various intervals between its introduction and the ultimate final sale.
As one would expect, there is supposed to be law that governs this sort of thing. Officially, the statute books (in particular, the 2007 Consumer Protection Act) state a desire to cut down on “misleading commercial practices”. But it’s not adequately specified, resulting in this sort of trickery being tolerated.
And unlike in the UK, retailers here aren’t nudged by the law to specify when the specified pre-sale price was actually in place.
“If a retailer crosses out one price and replaces it with another lower price, the goods in question must have been on sale in the same place at that previous price for a reasonable time,” said a spokeswoman for the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), the watchdog that oversees the sector.
“The definition of a reasonable time is not specified by law, but the CCPC’s view is that the goods should have been on sale for 28 consecutive days in the three months before the price was reduced.”
Grand. Except retailers often just ignore this. And they’re pretty confident that the CCPC won’t take any action against them, with good cause: the consumer watchdog hasn’t taken any action against retailers using fake sale discounts.
“No, the CCPC has not taken enforcement action on this specific basis,” said a spokesman for the regulatory body. “However, this issue has previously been looked at and contact made with specific traders. But no significant instances of non-compliance were established. If a consumer believes they have been adversely affected by a commercial practice by any company to contact our helpline on 1890 432 432 or visit our website at www.consumerhelp.ie.”
Well okay. Except it’s not really that easy for consumers to figure out when a discount is real or not. In the UK, the ‘Which’ consumer organisation monitors prices of major retailers, making it harder for them to claim half-cocked reductions. In Ireland, short of screenshotting webpages or hoarding catalogues, the best you can do is to use tools such as the Wayback Machine Internet Archive (just google it). That shows you what retailers were advertising at various points in the past, so you get a better idea if the sale reduction is real or not.
None of this is to say that retailers in Ireland don’t make genuine reductions available.
In the interests of fairness, I feel obliged to point out some of the real discounts currently on offer. Sticking with the retailers I’ve named and shamed above, Argos has an impressive (and rare) reduction on Dyson’s V6 Flex cordless vacuum cleaner (down 50pc to under €300). PC World has chopped a big chunk (€500) off Samsung’s Galaxy Tab Pro S (128GB, Core m3) touchscreen laptop to sell at €700. And given that Harvey Norman claims it will match competitors’ prices, it has to be counted too.
Irish retailers aren’t mendacious. But they’re under fierce pressure to make their sales sound as enticing as possible. And they’re not really being held to account.
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