John Lewis misled consumers with ad for 'free' TV sound bar, says watchdog
John Lewis has been reprimanded by the advertising watchdog for the second time this year following a complaint that it inflated the price of a TV to cover the cost of a "free" sound bar.
The department store, whose Never Knowingly Undersold pledge is a cornerstone of its reputation, misled customers with its claim that the sound bar was free, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said.
The John Lewis website offered the LG TV 55B6 with a "free LG SH7 sound bar" for £1,999 on February 15.
A customer, who understood that the TV was previously available for £1,749 without the sound bar, and that the sound bar was sold separately for £259, complained that the "free" claim was misleading.
John Lewis argued that the TV was sold with a manufacturer-supported discount of £250 in the month before February 14, and then increased to the original price of £1,999.
On February 15 the manufacturer offered financial support for another promotion, which was a bundle including a free sound bar worth £259.99.
The retailer refuted the suggestion that the price of the TV had been inflated to cover the cost of the sound bar as the support was only available from the manufacturer when the TV was bought as part of the bundle.
The ASA said consumers would interpret the "free" claim to mean that the usual selling price of the TV was £1,999, and that the sound bar had been added as part of the promotion for no extra cost.
It noted that the price of the TV had regularly changed since May last year and had often been available at £1,749, saying: "We therefore did not consider £1,999 to be the usual selling price."
The ASA said: "Because consumers were likely to understand that the sound bar had been included with the TV without increasing the price of the product, and because that was not the case, we concluded that the claim that the soundbar was free was misleading."
In March the ASA told John Lewis to ensure it deals fairly with shoppers after its Black Friday promotion on an Apple Watch breached advertising rules.
John Lewis said it removed the watch from sale following an unprecedented increase in sales as a result of the competitor price match promotion because it was unsure if it had enough stock to fulfil demand on that day.
The ASA ruled that John Lewis had not conducted the promotion fairly, resulting in unnecessary disappointment.
A John Lewis spokeswoman said: "We're very disappointed by the ASA's decision, not least because the promotion was widely available across the market and was being driven by the supplier.
"We accept the timing of a new promotion on the same day was unfortunate, however we wanted to ensure we remained competitive. Should this happen again, we will consider our response and timing more carefully to ensure we don't disappoint our customers."