Circumvention of European regulations
Legal Director of UFC-Que Choisir (Photo source R. Bartlomé)
We cannot trust the promotions of reselling platforms on the Internet. The implementation, in May 2022, of the European Omnibus regulation was to clean up any questionable or misleading practice: promotions had to be made on the basis of a price charged by the seller over the last 30 days. Omnibus was to certify to the consumer real reductions, without forcing him to decipher everything.
This text certainly made it possible to stop the price yo-yo: the platforms could no longer advertise a product at €100 one day, €200 the next day and €50 the day after and conclude that it was a promotion. But we are now facing a new stage in bogus promotions, a practice much worse than what was done before: a fraudulent circumvention of the new European regulations, which is losing credibility.
Our research of thousands of products showed us that 96% of the ads on these sites showed false discounts. The promotions they display are not based on the base price of the product, but on a “comparison price”. In other words, they announce: “I could have sold you this product for €500, like with my competitor, but I will sell it to you for only €100, or – 80%. »
The difference between the two prices is displayed as being a drop, but it is not: the platforms put forward a reduced price compared to a base price that they have never practiced! Sometimes this comparison is made with respect to an earlier period: they highlight the price of the product in 2018 and display the – reduced – price in 2023. However, this reduction is obvious for products such as mobile phones, since in five years, they have lost in quality and value.
Conversely, real promotions, which comply with European regulations, concern only 3% of ads. They are therefore drowned in a sea of lies. It is to give real meaning to the price and the promotion that we are filing a complaint today against these platforms.
Our eye, as a consumer, is naturally drawn to the percentage, even if we are not looking for it. But we must no longer linger over these announcement effects: they are only catchphrases. Let’s not forget that the heart of the business of these platforms is the attention economy: they do everything to make you stay as long as possible, but also to make you come back.
The healthiest thing for a consumer today is not to stop at a single site, not to place immediate trust in what is displayed. It is better to take two minutes to see what is practiced by others, to ensure the merits of the price.
Collected by Sarah Dupont
Tools to implement legislation are needed
Lawyer (source photo Y. Cohen. Hadria)
In a country like France, we can in principle imagine that the promotions displayed online are true. It is the consumer code, which appeared in the 1990s, which defines the authorized commercial practices and the obligations of sellers towards their customers. Online commerce, and therefore promotions, is governed by this text.
In the event of overlap with another regulation, when a foreign company decides to operate in France for example, the rules applied are those that are most favorable to consumers. If the foreign law is more advantageous, it is that which is applied, the reverse if necessary.
In France, promotions on the Internet are governed by European Omnibus regulations. According to the latter, promotions must be made on the basis of a price practiced by the company during the last 30 days. The objective is to avoid too great a variation in prices and to certify buyers of real promotions. The regulations are therefore favorable to consumers. However, while fraud is on the increase, complaints remain rare. Indeed, for an average buyer, the costs of legal proceedings are too high and the gains too low. Even if he is right, the consumer finds himself wronged. And in the event of victory, the sanctions addressed to companies are not very dissuasive.
The only truly effective recourse is through group actions such as those carried out by consumer associations. This is what we see with the complaint filed by UFC-Que Choisir. This makes it possible to impose heavier and therefore really binding penalties for companies.
The Directorate General for Consumer Affairs, Competition and Fraud Prevention (DGCCRF) is responsible for conducting investigations and sanctioning companies for misleading commercial practices. It even has a specific center assigned to e-commerce, the Electronic Commerce Surveillance Center (CSCE), within which cyber-investigators monitor the activity of online sales platforms. The problem is that its strike force is not efficient enough.
To remedy these shortcomings, the DGCCRF uses artificial intelligence. This allows him to identify cases of fraud more quickly. In the future, it will be more relevant to invest and to trust the evolution of technologies, rather than to strengthen legislation.
It would also be necessary to give more capacity for sanctions to the investigators, by means of a decree for example. This would allow them to impose smaller but systematic fines. The validation of these sanctions currently requires the approval of commissions, which weighs down the process. Today the legislation is there, and it applies. What we lack now is finding the culprits and punishing them.
Collected by Lucie Remer