As part of its programme of work on Online Choice Architecture, the CMA has been investigating Emma Sleep following concerns about Emma Sleep’s online selling practices, including whether its “urgency claims”, such as countdown timers and “discounts”, were misleading consumers.

The CMA has now issued an update, saying it has found evidence that discount claims made by Emma Sleep did not correspond with the actual savings that customers made. 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, that is, “was/now” pricing, 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 and so the “discount” did not represent a genuine saving against the usual selling price of Emma Sleep’s products.

These discounts were used in conjunction with countdown clocks. Although 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, sometimes within 24 hours. The CMA considers that countdown clocks 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.

The CMA has now written to Emma Sleep setting out its concerns and how Emma Sleep could address those concerns, including stopping using misleading countdown timers and discount offers. Emma Sleep now has the opportunity to respond to the CMA’s concerns and avoid potential court action by signing undertakings to change its online sales tactics.

The investigation into Emma Sleep is part of the CMA’s wider programme of consumer enforcement work focused on Online Choice Architecture. The investigation also follows the CMA’s open letter to UK businesses in which it sets out its concerns with urgency claims and price reduction claims (practices which can be examples of harmful online choice architecture). It is clear the CMA is willing and able to take action against companies engaging in these types of practices even without the increased powers it is set to be given under the new Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill.