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Consumer Rights.

Updated: 4 Mar 2021

How to complain if you’ve been misled by a sale or special offer

If you're unsure about a special offer, make sure you check that the offer is genuine before parting with your cash. 
Which?Editorial team

Key Information

Misleading special offers

  • Make sure you check the offer is genuine and hasn't been on offer longer than being at the higher price
  • Gather your evidence by taking date marked photos of the product before and during the offer and keep receipts
  • Complain to the retailer and give them your evidence
  • Complain to your local trading standards department

1 Check the offer is genuine

The current pricing practices of retailers must comply with the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, which ban misleading actions. 

The regulations also give you the right to redress, including the right to undo a contract and receive a refund, the right to a discount and an entitlement to seek damages. 

But in order for these rights to apply, you need to be able to show that a misleading action was a significant factor in encouraging you to make a purchase. 

Government guidance says that special offers shouldn’t be misleading, and any higher price mentioned should be a genuine price.

The guidance differs slightly depending on whether you are buying food or drink or something else, such as a TV.

The following practices fall foul of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.

  • Dodgy discounts   Products advertised as 'on offer' for longer than they were sold at their full price, or increasing in price when they’re on multi-buy offer.
  • Bait advertising  Luring the consumer with attractive advertising around special prices when the trader knows that he cannot offer that product, or only has a few in stock at that price.
  • Bait and switch  Promoting one product with the intention of selling you something else  
  • Limited offers   Falsely stating that a product will only be available for a very limited time, or that it will only be available on particular terms for a very limited time, in order to elicit an immediate decision and deprive consumers of sufficient opportunity or time to make an informed choice.
  • False free offers  Describing a product as free or without charge if the consumer has to pay anything other than the unavoidable cost of responding to the offer and collecting or paying for delivery of the item.

2 Gather your evidence

What is considered misleading will depend on the circumstances.

In some cases, putting up a small sign that explains how the offer differs from these rules could be enough.

If you believe an offer has been misleading, it would be advisable to gather any evidence you can. 

Take date-marked photographs of the product before and during the offer, and keep your receipts.

3 Report it to the retailer

Let the retailer in question know your concerns and send it a copy of the evidence you've gathered. 

If the offer was accompanied by statements you feel were misleading, such as 'amazing value', then you may, depending on the circumstances, be able to argue that there has been a misrepresentation. 

You will need to show that the wording surrounding the offer was inaccurate and induced you into buying the product, therefore entering into the contract. 

4 Contact Trading Standards

Unfortunately, there isn’t an ombudsman you can go to if you have a complaint about a retailer.  

However, if you think a company could be breaching the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, you can contact your local trading standards department.

Bear in mind, though, that your local trading standards department's role is to address the issue with the retailer, not to get your money back.