IP, Technology & Data

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has upheld a complaint against Warwick Castle on the way it displays pricing information on its website. This decision highlights the general move towards transparency of pricing following the Office of Fair Trading’s recent investigation into payment card surcharges in the airline industry.

In this case, the Warwick Castle website stated that visitor prices were “from £10 excluding VAT, plus VAT of £2.00, total £12.00”. This in itself, isn’t terribly clear, however, on purchasing the tickets customers were then faced with an additional £1 or £2 payment fee, depending on the payment method used for purchase.

The complaint was referred to the ASA for adjudication on the following grounds:

  • That the prices initially quoted did not include the mandatory card fee; and
  • That the website provided VAT exclusive prices.

On the first point, the ASA found that Warwick Castle had clearly breached the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the “CAP Code”). The ASA also found the pricing information clearly misleading and stated that the initial prices should have included the payment surcharge as there was no option but for customers to pay this if they wanted to buy a ticket to the attraction.

On the second point, despite the fact that Warwick Castle put forward a slightly bizarre explanation for displaying the VAT exclusive pricing (that this was part of a campaign to seek a review of VAT charges applicable to tourist attractions) the ASA found that this practice was also in breach of the CAP Code. Under Rule 3.18 of the Code VAT exclusive pricing may only be given if all or most consumers pay no VAT or can recover VAT. As this was not the case here, Warwick Castle were in breach.

The key thing to take away from this is to ensure that if you are displaying prices on a website, that these prices are straightforward, transparent and represent the total amount that the consumer will pay. In addition, it is useful to note that displaying too much information (such as unnecessary breakdowns) is just as likely to find you in front of the ASA board as if you display too little pricing information upfront.

(but actually written by new TIO Group assistant Leigh Kirkpatrick – who will become a full Techblogger soon).

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