An Interflora promotional email announced free delivery for Mother’s Day but an asterisk said the offer only applied to standard, next day deliveries. A late, but dutiful daughter charged £5 complained to the ASA. David Pawan reports the ASA verdict and the lessons.
Who: Advertising Standards Authority
When: 11 June 2008
Where: United Kingdom
Law stated as at: 23 June 2008
A promotional email sent by Interflora British Unit ("Interflora") for Mother's Day gifts was headlined "Free delivery: Mother's Day by Interflora" in the subject box.
The text within the body of the email itself continued "Free Delivery Offer! … At Interflora we're experts at delivering emotions because we specialise in delivering exquisite, expertly presented gifts. Plus, order today, and the delivery is FREE!*".
An asterisk was linked to a footnote in small print that stated "Free UK standard delivery worth £4.99. Order must exceed £24.99. Offer ends midnight 25 February 2008".
The complainant believed the ad was misleading because, when she ordered two bunches of flowers for Mother's Day, she found that there was a £5 delivery charge to pay on each.
Interflora stated that based on their own research, they believed consumers were aware that retailers imposed additional delivery charges out of hours and at premium times. However Interflora conceded that the offer could have been communicated more clearly, and had already briefed their marketing team to include the value of the offer ("Free UK standard delivery worth £4.99") in the headline, marked with an asterisk to show that terms and conditions applied, and clarification in the main body of the email to say that free delivery related to standard next day delivery.
Interflora asserted that they did not usually offer Sunday delivery, and that the volume of orders for Mothering Sunday was always high, which is why the service incurred a premium charge on that day. They said the charge for Mother's Day flowers delivered on the Friday or Saturday was £4.99, which would mean no delivery charge under their offer.
The ASA upheld the complaint.
The ASA said that most people would expect a free delivery offer for Mother's Day gifts and flowers to be delivered on Mother's Day. However, as delivery on Mother's Day cost £9.99 and the delivery promotion only covered delivery charges of up to £4.99, the ASA considered that the claim "Free delivery" in conjunction with the prominent reference to Mother's Day was misleading.
The ASA therefore adjudicated that the email ad had breached CAP Code clauses 7.1 (Truthfulness), 27.4 (Sales promotion rules), 34.1(a) (Significant conditions for promotions – how to participate) and 32.1 (Free offers and free trials).
Why this matters:
The Action taken by the ASA
The case underlines that extreme care must be taken when using the term "free" in connection with any promotion where charges are still made in some shape or form. Under new regulations in force since 26th May 2008, more dangers lurk for advertisers who do not take sufficient care over "free" offers.
Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 ("CPRs") came into force on 26 May 2008. Schedule 1 of the CPRs contains a list of "always unfair" commercial practices. According to practice #20, it is always considered an unfair commercial practice to describe a product or service as "free" where the consumer has to pay anything other than the unavoidable cost of responding to the commercial practice and paying for the delivery of the item. As delivery on Mother's Day cost £9.99 in this case and the "free delivery" promotion only covered delivery charges of up to £4.99, this email campaign, had it been sent after 25th May 2008, might well have fallen foul of the CPRs on this ground.