Email and the Law

Learning from Others’ Mistakes

Learning from your mistakes is a good policy. Learning from someone else’s mistakes is better, if only from a cost point of view. Bulk e-mail marketing is fraught enough without the added financial burden when you get it wrong.

It is refreshing therefore when a company as big as Tesco, and you don’t get much bigger in the retail trade, does something horrendous, costing them £365,000 in fines and costs plus untold damage to their reputation. Thankfully, there are lots of things we can usefully learn from their misfortune.

Tesco promoted a half price offer on a punnet of British strawberries, suggesting they were offered at £3.99, the latter price tag having a line drawn through it and a £1.99 label affixed nearby. An eagle-eyed and regular customer of Tesco complained to the Trading Standards in Birmingham.

Critical to the case against Tesco was that the lower price promotion was on offer for 14 weeks yet the higher price was only promoted for one week. This went against the Pricing Practices Guide, available here:

The guide recommends around 28 days at the higher price and no longer than the same period at the offer price. Tesco blamed an individual not working to their accepted standards.

There are lots of things to learn from this for bulk e-mail marketing. Firstly, lack of supervision of staff can cost so ensure those who make decisions are up to speed on good practice and the law.

Secondly, and more importantly, it is not enough to be merely literary correct. Obviously, the strawberries were on offer at half the price charged originally. But Trading Standards, and more importantly I suppose the courts, decided that the labelling was misleading. A purchaser would believe that the £3.99 was the ‘normal’ price.

Another point is that although this was a local promotion, because people visit Birmingham to shop it was felt to be of national importance.
The main learning point is that you need to take care with the wording of offers and deciding on a bulk e-mail marketing campaign. Consider what a purchaser might be led to believe. And, obviously, what the courts might think as well.



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