Image of outside building. Side view.

Failing to honour a gift promotion – ASA ruling against Superdrug

Published on 20 December 2018

What happens if you run out of gift stock so you can’t honour a promotion? Put another way, what must you do to ensure promotions are administered fairly?

The background

The ASA investigated two separate complaints in relation to two Superdrug promotional campaigns, those being:

  • "Promotion 1" – “Free ORS Magic Hair Towel when you buy 3 Black and Asian hair products’’ instore, and
  • "Promotion 2" –  “Free Primer when you buy 2 St Moriz products”.

In both cases, the complainants argued that the promotions had not been administered fairly, and therefore breached Section 8.2 of the CAP Code, which provides that:

Promoters must conduct their promotions equitably, promptly and efficiently and be seen to deal fairly and honourably with participants and potential participants.  Promoters must avoid causing unnecessary disappointment”.

In the case of Promotion 1, the complainant argued they had purchased the qualifying items, but that store staff had advised the promotion could not be honoured, as a delivery of the free gift had not been received by the store. 

In the case of Promotion 2, the complainant argued that they had purchased the required number of St Moriz products, but had been told following purchase that the free gift was out of stock.  

The response

Promotion 1

Superdrug responded with the following:

  • an expected delivery of the free gift had not been received by the store, prior to the complainant’s visit, due to unforeseen weather
  • affected stores had been issued with a communication explaining that affected customers should be offered an alternative free gift
  • all promotional material had been tagged as “subject to availability
  • IT systems for the relevant store did not show any qualifying purchases had been made in-store on the day in question.

Promotion 2

Superdrug explained that the complainant had not received the free gift as a result of an IT error, which meant the free gift had not been auto-added to the complainant’s qualifying order.  The issue had come to light on 9 May 2018, and an urgent request had been logged to investigate, and remedy the issue.  Superdrug confirmed that the gift had been in stock for the whole of the promotional period (25 April – 22 May 2018), and a workaround had been provided following the error, to send the primer to affected customers. 

The decision

Promotion 1

Following investigation, the ASA noted that the relevant store had received delivery of the promotional gift the day before the complainant claimed to have visited the store.  As such, the initial delivery issues which Superdrug claimed to have affected availability, had not played a part in the availability of the gift in this instance.  Superdrug was, regardless, responsible for ensuring sufficient stock was available at the start of and throughout the promotion. 

The ASA also noted that:

  • while Superdrug had advised staff to offer affected customers an alternative gift, this had not occurred in the case of the complainant, and
  • while Superdrug had not logged any qualifying purchases on the relevant date, the gift’s unavailability may have deterred the complainant from making the purchase, hence the lack of evidence of the same on Superdrug’s IT system.

Finally, the ASA noted that the use of “subject to availability” did not relieve promoters of their obligation to do everything reasonable to avoid disappointing participants. 

Therefore, the promotion concluded that the promotion had not been administered fairly and the Code had been breached. 

Promotion 2

While the ASA accepted that the product had never been out of stock, the IT issue had existed for at least five days of the promotional period, and therefore had likely caused disappointment to a number of customers, alongside the complainant. 

The ASA upheld the complainant’s complaint, and concluded that, as the promotion was likely to have caused unnecessary disappointment to participants, it had not been administered fairly, and had breached the Code. 

Why is this important?

Retailers should be aware of the high standard of behaviour required under Section 8.2 of the CAP Code.  They must take all necessary steps to ensure customers are not disappointed by their inability to fulfil the terms of their own promotion. 

Any practical tips?

Plan ahead! The ASA showed little sympathy to Superdrug, even where unforeseen circumstances had arguably caused the disappointment experienced by customers.  Make sure your promotion is well planned, in order to ensure as successful execution as possible and to minimise customer disappointment.