National furniture retailer fined over misleading customers in a Black Friday sale

A national sofa retailer was today fined £6,000 at court after it admitted misleading customers over supposed savings in a Black Friday sale deal which had been part of a nationwide Trading Standards investigation.

SCS at Unit 4, Kittybrewster Retail Park, Aberdeen,was uncovered carrying out the misleading act by Aberdeen City Council’s Trading Standards service.

The parent company A Share & Sons Ltd admitted the charge under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 of engaging in an unfair commercial practice which was misleading to consumers and related to the display of misleading posters throughout the store.

The poster falsely stated that everything had been reduced in the company’s Black Friday sale when the reality was that the company had increased the price of three of the sofas monitored by Trading Standards officers by hundreds of pounds just three days prior to the sale. The company had sought to rely on voucher books offering £25 off a sofa to justify its claim.

While sentencing, Sheriff Ian Wallace told the court: “I do not view this as an oversight – it was a planned act by the company purposefully misleading its customers for financial gain.”

The court heard that Aberdeen City Council’s Trading Standards Service had monitored the prices instore for many months as part of a nationwide investigation coordinated through the Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland (SCOTSS) to check on compliance by retailers with the law on price promotions and newly introduced pricing promotions guidance. This enabled them to build up a pricing history and to determine whether savings claimed were genuine.

Aberdeen City Council Trading Standards manager Graeme Paton said: “I am very concerned that this retailer appeared to have been ignoring the law relating to unfair trading in this manner by engaging in misleading sale practices.

“In one instance the company had increased the price of a sofa by £800 three days prior to a Black Friday promotion offering a £25 discount. Such practices are unfair, not only by misleading consumers in Aberdeen and the north-east but also by placing the many local and national retailers who trade fairly at an unfair disadvantage.

“Black Friday has become a very high-profile retail event in recent years, and consumers are entitled to rely on the fact that a claimed saving is a genuine saving.

“In this instance only through many months of labour-intensive monitoring of the prices of these product lines, were we able to prove beyond doubt that the claimed reductions were spurious.

“Officers of our Trading Standards service will continue to monitor sales promotions, both within the home furnishings sector and beyond, including future Black Friday promotions, and will take robust action where they are shown to be misleading, including the reporting of offenders to the Procurator Fiscal.”

The charge stated that the misleading practice took place on Wednesday 22 November, 2017, and related to the Lazy Boy Marvin three-seater sofa which had been increased in price by £800, the Lazy Boy Tamla three-seater sofa which had been increased by £270, and the Endurance Baxter two-seater console manual recliner sofa which was increased by £700.

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 prohibits unfair commercial practices. The Guidance for Traders on Pricing Practices was introduced in December 2016 to advise traders on pricing practices and promotions, and provides examples of pricing practices which are likely to comply with the law and those which may infringe consumer protection legislation.