CMA calls on Emma Sleep to change its online sales practices

The CMA is calling on mattress firm Emma Sleep to change its selling practices, which could be putting unfair pressure on customers to make quick purchases.

In November last year, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation following concerns about Emma Sleep’s online selling practices – including whether its ‘urgency claims’, such as countdown timers and ‘discounts’, were misleading consumers.

As a result of its investigation, the CMA has found evidence that discount claims made by Emma Sleep did not stack up against the actual savings made by customers. The CMA also has concerns that the firm’s use of countdown timers and claims of high demand for certain products could mislead consumers, and therefore breach consumer protection law.

Emma Sleep’s website is noted to feature extensive ‘discount’ offers [see Figure 1 below], illustrated by what is known as ‘was/now’ pricing, i.e., where a retailer shows the original (higher) price of a product and its ‘now’ (cheaper) price. During its investigation, the CMA found evidence that only a small fraction of Emma Sleep products were actually sold at the ‘full’ price – as such, the ‘discount’ did not represent a genuine saving against the usual selling price of Emma Sleep’s products.

Figure 1Screenshot of website showing 3 listings for discounted mattresses

These discounts were used in conjunction with countdown clocks. While such clocks can sometimes help shoppers to take advantage of genuine sales, the CMA found that when an Emma Sleep ‘sale’ concluded, it was quickly replaced by another – in some instances within 24 hours.

The CMA considers that countdown clocks [see Figure 2 below] used by Emma Sleep risked giving the misleading impression that discounts would soon end, and products would return to full price, when this was often not the case. Such timers, especially when used with other high demand claims, can put pressure on shoppers to buy quickly for fear they’ll miss out on a sale. This can lead to rushed purchases or consumers spending more than they planned to bag a perceived bargain.

Figure 2Screenshot of website for mattresses showing a large 60% discount sign and a countdown clock showing when the sale will end

The CMA has written to Emma Sleep detailing its concerns and outlining the ways in which it can address these, which include stopping the use of misleading countdown timers and discount offers.

Sarah Cardell, Chief Executive of the CMA, said: “Companies that use fake countdown clocks or misleading ‘discounts’ risk pressuring people into making quick purchases and often spending more money than they otherwise would for fear of missing out. This is especially concerning given the current pressure on people’s pockets.

“We have put a number of detailed concerns to Emma Sleep about its sales tactics. The CMA looks to Emma Sleep to agree to change the way it does business to avoid the risk of court action. Emma Sleep now has the opportunity to respond to the CMA’s concerns and avoid court action by signing undertakings to change its online sales tactics.”

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