Earlier this year, as part of its programme on Online Choice Architecture, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an 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. We previously reported on the initial launch of the investigation here.

In summary, the website features which are the cause of the CMA’s concern are extensive use of countdown clocks and marketing claims such as ‘Running out!’ or ‘In high demand!’ which create an impression of urgency and influence shoppers as they are making their purchasing decisions. 

Back in March, the CMA stated that it had found evidence that these claims risk giving the misleading impression that products will increase in price or will not be available, when this is often not the case. In addition, the CMA was also concerned about other practices including hidden charges and the use of a pre-ticked box to enrol consumers into VIP memberships on Wowcher’s site, which may lead to additional unintended purchases by consumers. 

Nearly eight months on and we have an update. The CMA announced on 16 November that it has written to Wowcher in relation to possible breaches of consumer protection law. The consultation letter is said to set out the CMA’s specific concerns about Wowcher’s online sales practices, including whether its countdown timers and other urgency claims mislead consumers, and the CMA has asked Wowcher to take steps to address its concerns. Wowcher now has an opportunity to respond to those concerns and thus avoid possible court action by signing undertakings which set out how it will address them. 

This is similar to the approach taken by the CMA in its investigation into Emma Sleep, in respect of which it sent a similar consultation letter to Emma Sleep on 7 July. See our previous article on this here.

The investigation into Wowcher is part of the CMA’s wider programme of consumer enforcement work focused on Online Choice Architecture and 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). With the CMA’s enhanced enforcement powers coming down the tracks in the form of the DMCC Bill, we expect there to be an increase in regulatory action and businesses should consider re-assessing their position on consumer issues that they may have previously taken a “risk-based approach” on. For further information on the DMCC bill, see our article here.