House of Fraser has been fined £40,000 for misleading Christmas shoppers last year into believing they were getting a bigger bargain on sale items than they actually were.
The company this week admitted at Newport Magistrates' Court that it misled customers about festive price discounts at certain stores in the run up to Christmas 2015.
It pleaded guilty to eight offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations and was fined £40,000, ordered to pay £8,501 in costs and a £120 surcharge.
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How was House of Fraser misleading customers?
An investigation into the company's practices, led by Torfaen County Borough Council, found that the store was displaying misleading price comparisons on sale items, so shoppers believed they were receiving a better bargain than actually existed.
Trading Standards officers visited branches of the store in Cwmbran, Cardiff and Bournemouth, alongside looking into the online site.
They†found numerous Christmas items on sale labelled with†'was/now'†price indications making consumers believe that the goods had previously been on sale at only the higher prices.†
But what the price tags didn't show was the lower intervening prices, so customers were unaware if they were receiving a true reduction in price. ††
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House of Fraser should've been 'painstakingly guarding against' this practice
Sentencing House of Fraser, District Judge Martin Brown said: "It may seem to some to be a rather trivial affair, but this is a large retailer in whom the public consider they can place their trust. This business practice is one that a company of this standing should have been painstakingly guarding against."
Councillor Gwyneira Clark, responsible for planning and public protection at Torfaen County Borough Council, added: "Shoppers have a legal right to expect items on display for sale, both in store and online, to be correctly described and priced. We've seen many cases now locally and nationally where retailers are misleading people with their sales promotions.
"This case sends a clear warning to them that our Trading Standards officers will act in the interests of our residents to crack down on those who fail to adhere to Government guidelines and consumer protection legislation."
What does House of Fraser say?
A spokesperson for House of Fraser said: "At House of Fraser, we are committed to giving our customers great value through price offers and our policy is always to be clear and transparent to ensure that our customers are able to make informed decisions.
"We regret that on this one occasion we did not meet our own high standards. Although the charges related to only a very small selection of products, we have taken additional steps to further enhance our procedures going forward."
What protection do the unfair trading regulations provide?
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations were originally introduced in 2008 and offer customers protection against any companies or traders engaging in unfair selling practices.
This includes false or comparative advertising that would deceive the average consumer into making a decision to purchase that would not otherwise have been made.