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Often companies online state that they have "limited time offers", where you can buy a product for a discount.

However, i'm sometimes suspicious about this, and suspect that they're not limited offers at all.

Are companies allowed to say "20% off! Offer expires in 4 days!", but then when those 4 days are over, simply wait a day or 2 and start the offer again? Or is this prohibited by consumer protection laws?

Edit: the jurisdiction could be either the US or the UK.

  • Yes they are allowed because consumer protection law has not yet evolved to the point of prohibiting marketing bullshit. – Greendrake May 6 '18 at 10:06
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    You should specify a jurisdiction. For example, this is prohibited in Australia. The link includes a case study where a jeweller was fined $250,000 for similar conduct – there was no need to quantify the harm suffered by individual customers. – sjy May 7 '18 at 5:40
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The answer would vary considerably. Consumer protection laws in some jurisdictions would find such a scheme to be an actionable deceptive trade practice, while consumer protection laws in other jurisdictions would find that it was not an actionable deceptive trade practice.

One of the trickier points is quantifying the injury. How are you harmed if you buy a good at 20% off when it is really 20% off? How are you harmed if you don't buy a good at 20% off and then later buy the same good at 20% off when you were expecting it to be full price?

Some consumer protection laws require that you show injury, and in those cases, it probably wouldn't be actionable. But, other consumer protection laws make false statements actionable, even if there is no reliance upon the statement or harm caused, in which case statutory damages might be recoverable.

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    One way in which you could be harmed is that if you think it’s 20 percent off for a limited time, then you might rush to buy and not have time to check competitors’ prices. Thus it could reduce market competition – user56834 May 7 '18 at 5:53
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    @Programmer2134 Fair point. Hard to prove. – ohwilleke May 7 '18 at 16:08
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The Federal Trade Commission does have rules about false, misleading and deceptive advertising. In its guidelines against deceptive pricing, the commission tells retailers that a product can be advertised as being sold at a reduced price if the former price was “a bona fide price at which the article was offered to the public on a regular basis for a reasonably substantial period of time."

https://www.nbcnews.com/business/consumer/fake-sales-trick-customers-major-stores-study-says-n366676

So if something is billed as a "limited time offer", but it is actually the standard price, this could be a violation.

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Wisconsin regulation ATCP 124.04 says that either the non-sale price must have existed for 4 consecutive weeks in the past 90 days, or they must have actually made a sale at the non-sale price in the past 90 days.

But in addition to that:

no price comparison under this section may be made by a seller based on a price which exceeds the seller's cost plus the percentage markup regularly used by the seller in the actual sale of such property or services, or consumer property or services of similar class or kind, in the seller's recent and regular course of business.

So you can't just sell it at the non-sale price for one day out of 90. It must truly be your "regular" price.

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