Chance of the calendar? The winter sales have just started and here is the question of fake bargains resurfacing. The Directorate General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control (DGCCRF) indeed announced Thursday, January 10 that it had transmitted to the judicial authority the conclusions of an investigation into private-sale practices. “The company is criticized for having sought to give its customers the illusion of getting a good deal by implementing various fraudulent strategies aimed at building a fictitious reference price” points out the DGCCRF. In short: display “reference prices that did not correspond in fact to any economic reality” to entice consumers via sharp reductions.
Contacted by Challenges, the site which claims 72 million members in 14 countries and a business volume of 3.3 billion euros in 2017 “firmly contests any implementation of” fraudulent strategies aimed at building a fictitious reference price “” and specifies having “deployed in recent years significant human and financial resources to check the recommended prices of its many partner brands”.
“False promotions” denounced by the UFC-Que Choisir
But the debate around the famous “reference prices” displayed by merchant sites and on which they offer discounts is far from being confined to Private-Sale. “A decree published in 2015 opened Pandora’s box,” recalls Grégory Caret, director of the UFC Que Choisir Consumer Observatory. “This decree allows merchants a lot of flexibility in the reference prices displayed.” Indeed, it removed the criteria for defining the reference price but indicated that “the advertiser must be able to justify the reality of the reference price from which the price reduction is announced”.
“There is no longer an obligation to use a reference price but traders can still choose to display one. There is no rule that defines the reference price but there is an obligation that it reflects an economic reality and is loyal “indicates Alexandre Chevallier, deputy chief of staff at the DGCCRF, adding that it is” forbidden to mislead the consumer “.
But the association for the defense of consumers UFC-Que Choisir denounces the “false promotions” which are found on the Internet thanks to “tips”, and this “all year round” and not only during sales, alert t- it. It also pinpoints five examples noted Wednesday on five different sites (Conforama.fr, Fnac.com, Auchan.fr, Cdiscount.com and Ubaldi.com). Grégory Caret firstly points out the lack of information on the displayed reference price. “In several examples, the price is increased just before the promotion period to make believe in a significant drop” he remarks before citing another example: a Marshall speaker sold for 119.99 euros on Cdiscount against a reference price posted from 249.99 euros. This is the price recommended by the brand specifies the sales site. But the UFC-Que Choisir notes that the enclosure has never been sold for more than 158 euros on Cdiscount in recent weeks and was even at… 119.99 euros the week before the sales.
Conclusions transmitted to the Bobigny public prosecutor’s office
If Vente-privée is today questioned by the DGCCRF, the Repression of fraud is not at its first attempt on this issue: in February 2017, it announced that it had opened “litigation proceedings against of 19 e-commerce brands. These resulted in the payment of several million euros in fines in connection with criminal transactions. ” Fines totaling 2.4 million euros. “Not really dissuasive” regrets Grégory Caret. “Deceptive commercial practices can be sanctioned by a fine of up to 10% of the average annual turnover of the three years preceding the facts” specifies Alexandre Chevallier.
For the investigation concerning Private-Sale, the ball is now in the court of the judicial authority since the DGCCRF transmitted the conclusions of its investigation – which is based in particular on searches carried out in 2016 on the premises of the site founded in 2001 by Jacques-Antoine Granjon – to the public prosecutor of Bobigny. Vente-privée specifies that it “is not the subject of any prosecution to date” and cannot comment further. “We sell tens of millions of pieces, and the DGCCRF hooks us on a few hundred products from old collections, for which we had difficulty finding the reference prices”, however, specified Jacques-Antoine Granjon, quoted by Le Figaro.
On the consumer side, vigilance remains in the face of the many reductions offered online. “We must not give in to promotions that are too attractive and above all, we must compare the prices offered by the different sales sites” recalls Grégory Caret. “Consumers must be vigilant and compare the prices offered for the same product. They must not reason solely on the basis of the reductions displayed” confirms Alexandre Chevallier.