The retail sector has undergone a huge transformation over the past couple of decades; some of those changes for the good, others not so beneficial.
Many of us turn to the internet when making decisions on where to shop or what to spend, expecting that the information we read is accurate and truthful, that the price advertised is what we’ll pay and that the label on a product gives the information we need in an easy-to-understand way.
However, that’s not always the case and shoppers can often be unwittingly caught out.
The government is keen to take the necessary steps to protect consumers from the hidden dangers they may face, and has now launched three consultations aimed at finding out what can be done.
The consultations, which began on 4th September, come in the wake of government research looking into the problems of fake reviews on customer websites, confusion around the labelling of goods, and hidden fees that catch out consumers when buying products.
It’s important that both consumers and traders can rely on reviews that reflect a genuine customer experience. The government wants to curtail the practice of buying and selling fake reviews, which can distort the process by which consumers make decisions on what to buy or where to spend their money. The government also wants to ensure that firms operating review websites adopt a responsible attitude towards what appears on their sites and can take action when evidence shows a problem with fake reviews.
As an indication of the scale of the problem, a recent survey indicated that around 10% of Amazon users had been offered incentives by sellers to leave good reviews of their products.
The measures were originally announced in the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill (DMCC), currently at the report stage in the House of Commons.
The increase in prices caused by hidden fees, called “drip pricing”, happens when the price paid at the checkout is higher than originally advertised due to extra fees.
This practice happens with 54% of entertainment providers and 56% of hospitality providers, as well as 72% of transport and communications providers
Figures indicate that the total cost of hidden fees is £1.6 billion online each year.
The final consultation looks at how to simplify labelling on goods.
The Department for Business and Trade has proposed reforming the Price Marking Order. This order means traders must display the final selling price and – where appropriate – the final unit price (e.g. price per litre/kilogramme) of products in a clear way.
This will ensure consistency of unit pricing, including promotions and special offers. It’s hoped this will make it easier for consumers to compare products and decide which items offer the best value.
What happens next?
The government has said that it will monitor responses to the consultation to try and ensure that whatever steps are taken don’t cause unnecessary regulatory burdens for businesses.