Editor's Comment: Why can’t an offer be extended if it has done well?

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Fingers is at it again.

Meddlesome OFT chief John Fingleton, an economist, has been sticking his digits into "the advertising of prices", and after 10 months of prodding, his proposals to address misleading claims will be unveiled next week.

But The Grocer has seen a draft of the proposals (p5), and, if they come into force in December, they are likely to have a very significant impact indeed on the promotions landscape.

The OFT is at pains to point out these are not new rules. It has simply worked to interpret the significance of s0-called CPRs (Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations) as they apply to seven pricing practices: reference pricing; time-limited offers; drip pricing; baiting; volume discounts; 'free' offers; and other complex or confusing pricing.

As with so many OFT initiatives, the proposals are born of good intentions, too. As it says, price offers based on any of the seven practices reviewed are acceptable in principle as long as they are used in "a clear, honest manner that does not mislead".

Based on the new proposals, however, it is apparent that the OFT considers a number of existing interpretations to be unclear, misleading and, by implication, downright dishonest.

In some instances, I think the OFT has a valid case. The practice of baiting (advertising a deep discount on Dom Pérignon when only a handful of bottles are available, for example), and masking price rises with promotions shows a lack of respect for the customer. Wild swings in price also create confusion as to the real price.

But in other areas I expect retailers next week to start challenging the OFT's interpretations. What's wrong with a permanent rollback? Why can't an offer be extended if it has done well, and the consumer likes it?

The devil is always in the detail, but with all the promotions out there are we honestly not getting a good deal?

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  • ADAM LEYLAND
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