When the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill was introduced to the UK parliament in April, there was some disappointment/surprise that although it mentioned fake reviews, it did not contain any substantive provisions to regulate them, and the government intended to consult further on them. Fake reviews have been the subject of concern for some years now. As well as this, people had expected proposals on drip pricing.
In addition, Which? has been campaigning about unit pricing in supermarkets, and the CMA recently called on the UK government to reform the Price Marking Order as part of its investigation into grocery prices.
Their wishes have been granted, as the government has now launched a consultation on five areas of consumer law, including pricing and fake reviews.
- The display of pricing information - the government proposes to reform the Price Marking Order (which applies in Great Britain) to simplify requirements on unit pricing so it is more consistently applied, to clarify requirements on legibility and on how promotional pricing should be displayed, and to review the “small shops” exemption (shops with a small footprint do not have to comply with the Order).
- Hidden fees and drip pricing - drip pricing is problematic when it is used to attract a consumer to a purchase with a low base price, when that base price is misleading because of the subsequent addition of further mandatory fees. However, in other cases drip pricing reflects the nature of the product sold, for instance when the personal preferences of the consumer are established, and optional additional features are added to the product. The consultation seeks views on whether and how the government should approach the issue, and to identify drip pricing that may be grounds for future government intervention or stronger guidance.
- Fake and misleading reviews - the consultation seeks views on legislating to expressly prohibit the buying and selling of fake reviews, and a firm’s failure to take reasonable and proportionate steps to ensure reviews displayed to consumers reflect genuine consumer experiences.
- Online platforms - the DMCC Bill re-establishes online platforms’ existing responsibilities under consumer law to demonstrate professional diligence with respect to consumer purchases they facilitate. The government seeks views on whether and how it should build on the existing definition of professional diligence. The aim would be to ensure that online platforms
and consumers have greater clarity over their respective rights and responsibilities. In the main, online platforms take active steps to ensure consumers using their sites are treated fairly. As a result, the government is particularly interested in developing the concept of professional diligence directly with online platforms, as well as with consumer representatives.
- Online interface orders - the government is considering whether to extend the power to apply to court for online interface orders (OIOs) and interim online interface orders (IOIOs) to
additional enforcers as well as the CMA to enable them to tackle online conduct that may not be adequately covered by their existing powers.
The government is also asking if it should add further commercial practices that are unfair to the list of prohibited practices which attract private rights of redress.
The consultation ends on 15 October 2023. It will be interesting to see if any of these issues find their way into the DMCC Bill, or are legislated for separately.
A key purpose of the legislation under review in this consultation is to ensure consumers are provided with timely and relevant information when making decisions