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The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) Addresses Misleading Online Sales Pitches

CMA has published an online reporting form, encouraging consumers to report businesses which engage in ‘misleading tactics’ such as pressure selling, hidden charges, subscription traps and fake reviews. Alongside this form, the CMA has issued an open letter to all businesses that are involved in the online sale or promotion of goods, services or digital content to UK consumers to help them avoid certain types of pressure selling and comply with the law. This should be of interest to online retailers, service providers, marketplaces and other businesses that design online stores or produce content relating to price reductions and the availability of products sold online.

To mark the launch of the new phase of its ‘Online Rip-Off Tip Off’ campaign, the CMA’s online reporting form and open letter are the latest developments in the its work to tackle online selling practices that are potentially harmful to consumers. This follows 2 studies on online choice architecture which the CMA published in April 2022. There are also 2 ongoing investigations by the CMA concerning the use of countdown clocks and other ‘urgency claims’. Marketing claims made by businesses online have been the subject matter of various investigations and guidance documents issued by CMA over the past few years, often due to concerns over their effects on consumers’ purchasing decisions. If such a claim distorts consumer behaviour, it is likely to amount to an unfair commercial practice which is a criminal offence under the “Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations” of 2008. This might be the case if, for example, a claim contains untrue information, or information that is deceptive even if the words are literally true, or if a claim fails to clearly state important information that consumers need to make an informed decision, or if it puts unfair pressure on consumers to complete a purchase.


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Alastair Tempest

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