The OFT held websites liable having unverified testimonials and failure to allow price comparison on its sites.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) conducted investigations and found that several businesses were possibly violating the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs). The OFT found evidence of commercial practices that could be considered misleading statements or omissions about the websites' operations. These websites had characteristics of price comparison sites, such as domain names that suggested they were price comparison sites, but did not prominently display the businesses operating the site. Some websites made claims or comments about obtaining the best prices without clearly stating whether a price comparison was being made. One of the websites, fuelfighter.co.uk, claimed to be an independent price comparison site and provided a list of customer testimonials to support this claim. However, these testimonials could not be verified. The company and its directors agreed not to mislead consumers by claiming to be an independent price comparison site when they were not, and to disclose information about the website's ownership and businesses providing quotations via the website.
In response to the OFT's concerns, the website implemented changes to provide material information about ownership, disclose connections between businesses providing information, and make clear the number of businesses providing quotations before consumers accept them. Additionally, the company and its directors signed undertakings to adhere to these requirements.
Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and Fuelfighter.co.uk; Boilerjuice.co.uk; Cheapheatingoil website (Heating oil price comparison websites)
CRE-E-26547, 26555, 26759, 26760, 26761
Related deceptive patterns
When a user makes a purchasing decision, they will often try to weigh up the price against the features and their personal needs. When comparing products, they may try to do this for each one before making a decision. If this evaluation activity becomes too difficult, users may give up and make a rash decision. The comparison prevention deceptive pattern abuses this behaviour by making the comparison as difficult as possible. When a user struggles, they are more susceptible to cognitive biases such as social proof, the authority bias or the default effect. This enables the provider to steer them towards a decision that generates more revenue, but may not be in the user's best interest.
The fake social proof deceptive pattern creates an illusion of popularity and credibility by presenting users with falsified or exaggerated endorsements, such as reviews, testimonials, or activity messages. This manipulation preys on the social proof cognitive bias, in which which individuals are likely to conform to the behaviour of others. It is a shortcut that allows people to avoid the hard work of carrying out a critical evaluation of their own. By using the fake social proof deceptive pattern, providers can trick users into making a purchase or engaging with their offerings.
Prohibit traders across all sectors from using unfair commercial practices that hinder consumers from making informed purchasing decisions.