The Competition and Markets Authority is certainly keeping itself busy with its work on Online Choice Architecture having launched another investigation into online “urgency” claims, this time in relation to Wowcher's practices.

Following its warning letter to business about online choice architecture, the CMA has now announced a second investigation into whether Wowcher has misled consumers by using countdown timers and other urgency claims, which may place unfair pressure on consumers to complete their purchases quickly. This new investigation also follows the investigation into Emma Sleep in late 2022 which looked at “urgency” claims made by the company.

The CMA is acting swiftly having only just published an open letter on 29 March to UK businesses in which it sets out the CMA’s “red lines” on misleading urgency and price reduction claims. The letter provides practical illustrations of where common online tactics may be misleading consumers or applying unfair pressure. The advice is for all businesses that sell or promote goods online to UK shoppers.

The CMA will now engage with Wowcher and gather further evidence to consider whether it may have broken consumer protection laws, especially the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. The CMA is at the initial stage of its investigation. Accordingly, it emphasises that it should not be assumed that any business under investigation has breached consumer protection laws. 

Rumour has it that the government’s proposed Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill is making headway.  The government said last year that it would carry out more research into “dark patterns” so it is possible that the Bill will include more rules about these tactics.  The Bill is also likely to contain new regulatory and fining powers for the CMA. 

With new CMA powers on the horizon and with the CMA already taking action, businesses should review their marketing and sales processes to ensure that they comply with consumer laws.