Viagogo ordered to provide better information on ticket purchasing
What steps will Viagogo be required to take in order to better protect consumers and what does this mean for the company and its consumers?
Secondary ticketing operators have attracted substantial criticism in recent years for preventing music and sports fans from buying seats at popular events by allowing touts to purchase tickets in bulk and charge vast mark-ups via their reselling sites.
In 2017 the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched enforcement proceedings against four secondary ticketing websites over concerns that they were breaching consumer protection laws. This resulted in three of the four websites committing to increase transparency. Viagogo, however, did not offer the same assurances and the CMA subsequently launched legal proceedings in August 2018.
The court order
The evening before the CMA’s application was due to be heard, a settlement was reached whereby Viagogo agreed to make what the CMA called a “comprehensive overhaul” of its UK website. The parties agreed a court order requiring Viagogo to:
- tell ticket purchasers if there is a risk they will be turned away at the door
- inform customers which seat in the venue they will get
- provide information about who is selling the ticket, and expressly state where the seller is a tout (defined as someone who sells more than 100 tickets per year)
- ·not give misleading information about the availability and popularity of tickets, which had led to customers being rushed into making a decision or the wrong order
- improve their complaints handling procedure and make it easier for people to get their money back under Viagogo’s guarantee when things go wrong, and
- prevent a sale where the seller does not own and may not be able to supply the tickets.
If Viagogo does not comply with the order by January 2019, it could be fined and individuals at the company could face imprisonment.
Why is this important?
The settlement represents another victory for the CMA in its crackdown on secondary ticketing websites. If Viagogo deliver on their commitments, consumers will have advanced rights and we should see a decrease in complaints made to regulators by ticket purchasers who feel they have been misled.
The CMA is not itself entitled to impose fines but has the right to enforce consumer protection law through the courts. It has shown again that it is more than willing to use its powers in the event of a perceived breach – this should be heeded by consumer-facing businesses who choose to dance too closely to the regulatory line.
Any practical tips?
Beware building online processes which sail too close to the wind from a regulatory perspective (whether around pricing techniques or otherwise). Unpicking these can be costly and burdensome, and make it hard to respond to regulators’ demands. Above all, don’t push the CMA too hard – they’ll get you in the end!Organisations should be aware of the consumer standards they are required to observe and seek legal advice if there is doubt as to compliance. Legal advice is also essential in the event that an organisation is subject to a CMA investigation. Adopting a structured and cooperative approach early on can save considerable time and resources and avoid reputation-damaging litigation.