A disgruntled Boots complained to the ASA that a Tesco ad comparing its razor blade prices with those of Boots misleadingly chose Boots’ online prices when they were in fact cheaper in Boots stores. Jenny Reid reveals the perhaps surprising verdict and the reasons.
Who: ASA and Tesco Stores Limited ("Tesco")
Where: United Kingdom
When: 16 September 2009
Law stated as at: 30 September 2009
The ASA recently published an adjudication relating to a complaint made by Alliance Boots ("Boots") regarding an advert published in the national press on behalf of Tesco. The advert, with the headline "Fill Your Boots At Tesco", contained photographs of various products with the prices at which they were sold at Tesco and at Boots, claiming "All This £5.99 Cheaper Than Boots".
One of the items featured was a pack of Gillette MACH3 razor blades which the advert claimed cost £11.24 at Boots and £9.76 at Tesco. Boots complained that the Boots price quoted for the product was only an online price and that the razor blades were on sale for £9.60 in Boots stores. They said that the advert was misleading as it did not make it clear that the prices quoted did not apply in-store. The advert did however contain small print stating "Prices checked online at Boots.com on 25/03/09" and "Also available at www.tesco.com".
Tesco said that they had been comparing their online and in-store prices (which were the same) with Boots' online prices since April 2008 and they believed that Boots' online and in-store prices did generally match, unless there was an exclusive promotion online.
"Disproportionate to include a disclaimer" say Tesco
Tesco suggested that they could have added a disclaimer to the advert stating that Boots' online and in-store prices should match, subject to promotions and errors, but added that they felt this would be disproportionate.
The ASA did not uphold Boots' complaint. They said that the comparison was fair as it related to the online prices for both sellers and they understood why Tesco felt it was reasonable to compare their prices against Boots' online prices alone. The ASA pointed out that Tesco had come across instances where the Boots online prices were cheaper than the in-store prices, with the razor blades being the only instance where they have found the online price to be more expensive than the in-store price. Boots were not willing to confirm whether the price difference was an error and they did not provide details to the ASA as to how often the online and in-store prices differed.
Why this matters:
The ASA found that Tesco were justified in comparing Boots' online price with Tesco's online/in-store price. Details of the prices used by Tesco to make the comparison were contained in the small print of the advert and as a result the ASA did not feel that this would be regarded as misleading to consumers. They further stated that Tesco would not be required to insert the suggested disclaimer into their advert.
It seems that, as long as the prices quoted in such comparative adverts were accurate as at the date and location/sales channel detailed in the small print, the advertiser will not be obliged to check that their competitor's price of the products for every sales channel is the same or to detail the differences.
For more information in relation to the ASA adjudication click here.