Despite making some of the best laptops money can buy, Dell is scheduled to meet in Federal Court with the Australian consumer watchdog ACCC, following allegations that the tech company’s Australian online store made “false representations or misleading about the price of monitors”.
On a declaration (opens in new tab), the ACCC alleges that between August 2019 and December 2021, Dell intended to lure consumers into adding monitors to a computer purchase “by displaying false or misleading discounts.” According to the Watchdog’s alleged findings, the prices of monitors as an add-on were often more expensive than if the monitor was purchased separately.
Dell’s online store in Australia has the usual PVP eliminated and, according to the ACCC, these strikethrough prices were often inflated to make consumers think the savings were bigger than the reality. Business markers such as ‘total savings’ and ‘discounted pricing’ are among those the consumer watchdog alleges Dell Australia used to trick its customers in an attempt to encourage them to add a monitor to their computer purchase.
“Cases involving claims of ‘era/now’ misleading pricing by major consumer goods retailers are a priority for the ACCC,” said watchdog commissioner Liz Carver. “Companies must be well aware of their legal requirements and must have effective compliance programs in place to prevent this type of consumer harm.”
The ACCC also added that alleged consumer deception occurring during periods of Covid lockdowns was of particular concern as parents of school-aged children forced to study at home increasingly sought out PCs and PC-related technology out of necessity and, therefore more vulnerable to being deceived.
“While the total number of consumers cheated is unknown, we believe that many thousands of consumers received an additional monitor advertised as representing an inflated discount,” added Carver.
Will other countries catch up with Australia’s crackdown on consumer rights?
Dell’s Australian store may be the latest retailer to run afoul of the Australian consumer watchdog as a result of allegedly misleading consumers, but it’s hardly the first. In August, Google found itself in trouble when it was ordered by the Australian Federal Court to pay AU$60 million in fines after allegations (opens in new tab) to “make misleading representations to consumers about the collection and use of their personal location data on Android phones between January 2017 and December 2018”.
Google’s significant payout followed a similar finding against Samsung Australia in June, which was ordered to pay A$14 million after the South Korean tech giant admitted to misleading consumers about the water resistance of some of its products. Samsung Galaxy smartphones.
And of course, in late October, Google-owned smartwatch maker Fitbit was the only one to run afoul of the Australian watchdog after allegations it was misleading consumers about its refund and replacement rights for products. Fitbit.
The ACCC’s willingness to act on behalf of consumer rights and draw a line on attempts to deceive Australians is a welcome service, especially now that the cost of living continues to rise and shopping erodes everyone’s budgets.
ACCC’s actions also serve as useful examples for countries such as the US and UK, where the powers of relevant consumer watchdogs are notoriously (opens in new tab) less effective and not encouraged to act with commensurate force as a result of various bureaucratic barriers. As an example, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the US at the end of october (opens in new tab) announced plans to consider tougher crackdown on retailers who post false or misleading reviews or suppress negative consumer reviews. Engaging in the practice of posting fake reviews and suppressing negative reviews is already illegal in the US, but it didn’t quite work out. FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Samuel Levine said, “We are exploring whether a rule that would trigger strict civil penalties for violators would make the market fairer for honest consumers and businesses.”
In our opinion, the inference to be drawn is that some retailers are openly willing to flout existing regulations and laws in an attempt to mislead consumers and seemingly without fear of facing real consequences. Lessons learned from Australia’s newfound crackdowns are expected to begin to trickle down abroad.
For retailers, the importance of transparency and fair practice when dealing with consumers is invaluable to consumers at best, but becomes even more imperative in times of financial crisis like now.