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Don’t be taken in by bathroom and kitchen promotions

Big-name retailers could be misleading consumers with sales tactics

Modern kitchen and bathroom

Our research into kitchen and bathroom promotions shows that a number of well-known companies run almost constant sales, regular multiple offers and use countdown clocks.

We’ve been analysing promotional messages from the websites of 12 big UK bathroom and kitchen companies, collected by home improvement market intelligence agency Insight Retail Group from March 2018 to March 2019, as well as additional information we’ve gathered.

Current regulations around sales and promotions prohibit anything that is false or misleading to ‘the average consumer’. Although companies were technically playing by the rules for the most part, we think some retailers’ promotional messaging could have been confusing and – in some cases – misleading, giving customers a false sense of urgency to buy.

Below, we’ve pulled out examples of the promotions that we believe were most confusing. However, this is an almost industry-wide issue, so we will be co-ordinating with the ASA and Trading Standards to create change for consumers.

Read on to discover what sales tactics retailers use so that you can stay one step ahead.

Then, visit our fitted kitchen and bathroom reviews to find out how the big brands were rated by their customers.

Countdown clocks

The most important concern with any sale or promotion is whether it makes you feel pressured to buy sooner than is right for you.

When we did some of our own checking of the bathroom companies’ websites in January and February 2019, we found that they weren’t always clear about when their promotions were going to end, especially if there were two offers running at once.

For example, on 14 January 2019 Victoria Plum was running two offers – ‘up to 70% off January sale’ and ‘plus an extra 10% off sale prices’. These came with a countdown clock that was ending in less than two days.

When we checked again on 17 January, the ‘up to 70% January sale’ was still on, but now customers could get ‘20% off sale prices’.

We think that people shopping on the 14 January might have believed that the 70% sale was ending when the deal expired, not the 10% extra offer.

We found other examples of prominent countdown clocks promoting various offers. Better Bathrooms and Victorian Plumbing used them regularly during the time period we examined.

What you can do about it

Make sure you read the small print to find out exactly when an offer will end, and which part of the offer a prominent deadline applies to, particularly if there is more than one deal running.

You can sometimes find T&Cs at the bottom of websites, but you might have to do a bit of digging. If you can’t find the information, speak to a sales person.

Most importantly, don’t feel pressured to buy if you’re not sure – take your time to make the right decision for you.

Constant promotions

One of the most striking things about looking at our full year of data is the fact that a number of the companies had at least one promotion running a lot – or even all – of the time.

Never-ending kitchen and bathroom sales graphic

Wickes and Wren Kitchens ran promotions and offers on each day of the year we looked at. Although at both retailers other deals were also available on and off throughout this time period, they used similar attention-grabbing half-price or more discounts.

Wren ran a multi-buy offer all year, although we didn’t see this being promoted as being time-limited in any way. For 246 days the offer was 50% off when you purchased five or more kitchen units. For 49 days immediately before that, the offer was 60% off.

A half-price offer, without the multi-buy stipulated on its homepage, ran for 70 days before that. Part of the time it had an additional VAT-free offer, and separately it had an extra 25% off.

According to the terms and conditions on its website when we checked a number of dates, these additional offers were sometimes just for two of its three kitchen ranges – Infinity and Infinity Plus – and sometimes for all three.

Wickes did something similar. For 199 days it offered 50% off its Showroom kitchens if you bought five or more units, with other deals running intermittently beforehand and alongside it, such as 50% off installation.

Magnet also offered a similar multi-buy promotion for 50% off towards the end of 2018, in addition to other deals. It, however, had some breaks between promotions.

For all three, these multi-buys were still running when we checked before publication on 15 April 2019.

Although multi-buy offers are fairly widely used and aren’t currently against the rules, we feel they’re disingenuous – unless there is a genuine saving to be had.

Even without a time-limit on the deals, people may think they are getting a fantastic deal, when in fact those kitchens are pretty much always that price. Except, of course, if you bought less than five units. But that’s fairly unlikely for a kitchen renovation.

Kitchen multi-buy offer graphic

Victoria Plum had a deal running for all but one day in the 365-day period we looked at, and Bathstore had one running for 361 of the days. We didn’t track whether, or how many, of the bathroom companies’ individual promoted products changed each time a sale ended and a new one began.

However, we believe that regular sales, especially when combined with countdown clocks or promoted end dates, might have made customers feel compelled to buy there and then, when there was likely to be another deal of some kind starting the very next day or shortly after.

What you can do about it

Don’t take a headline offer on face value. Shop around and compare prices. An attractive deal might make something sound too good to be missed, but your dream kitchen or bathroom might actually be cheaper elsewhere.

Also, be assured that there will most likely always be some sort of deal or saving to be had, so don’t feel rushed to buy before one ends.

However, if you have your heart set on a specific product or range in the sale, it might be that buying sooner rather than later will bag you some savings. So double check what’s in the sale and what isn’t. If you’re happy to be flexible and opt for a similar alternative, there’s bound to be other deals to be had.

Confusing multiple offers

As well as the regularity of the sales, we think that some retailers may have also confused shoppers with their mix-and-matched offers.

Both Victoria Plum and Bathstore appeared to have overloaded consumers with interchanged and multiple offers, as you can see in the examples below.

Promotional message 1 Promotional message 2 Promotional message 3
Bathstore Up to 50% off Plus 25% off non-sale items Plus an extra 10% off everything
Victoria Plum Up to 70% off May sale Plus 15% off all sale prices Up to 20% off Big Brand sale

Again, we didn’t track what products were specified in and out of these offers. But with so many elements to consider, we think these promotions may have made it tricky for shoppers to get to grips with what savings could have actually been made, and, therefore, whether they were really worth it.

What you can do about it

As for other promotions, make sure you check the terms and conditions or ask staff to find out what’s included in each offer and how much it will really change the final price.

Multiple offers graphic

Not all companies push promotions

Only a handful of companies didn’t really partake in this sales practice. During the period we looked at, B&Q didn’t run any promotions for its bathrooms or kitchens, and Ikea and John Lewis each only had one kitchen deal around Christmas and into January.

Last year, we also analysed kitchen prices from the biggest companies. For B&Q and Ikea’s kitchens, their promotional messages reflected the fact that their prices were mostly steady throughout the year.

However, many of the other brands changed their prices frequently, meaning there was no one time to cinch a bargain. You can see our news story on kitchen sales for more details. We didn’t look at bathroom pricing as the market is so large.

What the companies had to say

We’ve reached out to all of the companies we think have confused customers.

Wren Kitchens disputes our findings and maintains that it’s perpetual multi-buy offer is to ensure economies of scale in production and not to entice or mislead consumers. It told us that it had prepared its 2018 and 2019 promotions in conjunction with the ASA and all relevant guidance.

Wickes declined to make a comment. Magnet said: ‘We are running a variety of incentives to make our kitchens even more affordable. We always work alongside the ASA to comply with all trading.’

Victoria Plum said: ‘We work very hard to help customers get the great bathroom they want at low prices. Varied promotional and website experiences recognise that different customers have different needs. This is why we work closely with the Advertising Standards Authority to ensure all our promotions meet their guidelines.’

Bathstore commented: ‘When our new management team were appointed in autumn last year, we transformed the promotional strategy for Bathstore. Our current offers focus on lower headline discounts and added value offers. Plus, our Trading Standards local authority has approved all our promotional campaign activity over the last six month.’

Victorian Plumbing said: ‘The Committee of Advertising Practice has reviewed the countdown clocks on our site and it felt that customers could tell that they referred to a secondary promotion. We’re confident that our customers can easily discern sales information on our site, but we will continue to assess the clearest way to present this.”

Better Bathrooms, which has now gone into administration and been bought by Buy it Direct, has not yet responded to our request for a comment.

Our research

Throughout January and February 2019 we checked the main bathroom retailer’s websites every few days and recorded promotions displayed on the homepage of the websites, as well as the terms and conditions. This included B&Q, Bathstore, Better Bathrooms, Homebase, Victoria Plum, Victorian Plumbing and Wickes.

The year-long data from March 2018 to March 2019 was collected by Insight Retail Group runs, which records the main promotional messages on the big retailers websites on a daily basis.

It covers bathrooms and kitchens from B&Q, Homebase and Wickes; kitchens from Ikea, John Lewis, Magnet and Wren Kitchens, and Bathstore and Victoria Plum’s bathrooms. For Better Bathrooms, Soak and Victorian Plumbing, promotions were tracked from May 2018. It hasn’t collected information for Howdens Joinery or Benchmarx as they sell to trade, not directly to consumers.

Insight Retail Group also runs price-comparison sites Kitchen-compare.com and Bathroomscompare.com and has commercial interests in the home improvements market.

For more of our home improvements research, including the results of our customer surveys, head to our guides to the best kitchen brands, the best bathroom brands and the best fitted furniture brands.

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