Online retailers are being targeted by the Office of Fair Trading (‘OFT’) to find out whether consumers are being treated unfairly.
On 14th November 2012, the OFT launched a call for information from interested parties, including, in particular, online retailers and computer software providers, in order to understand and explore the extent to which businesses are monitoring the practices of online consumers and using the data they gather to target them with personalised prices.
Online consumers will be all too aware that it is common practice among online retailers to monitor consumers’ shopping habits and use the information they collect to target them with personalised marketing. The OFT, which protects consumers in the UK and ensures markets work well for them by promoting and protecting consumers’ interests and rights, wants to look at how businesses are using consumer information and, in particular, whether they change the prices they offer individual shoppers as a result.
In its press release, the OFT said that it will ‘consider business and technological developments in the online shopping market, consumers’ understanding of how their information is used and whether they are being treated unfairly in law as a result’.
Clive Maxwell, the Chief Executive of the OFT, said that ‘it is important [the OFT] understands what control shoppers have over their profile and whether firms are using shoppers’ profiles to charge different prices for goods or services. This call for information will help [the OFT] understand these practices better and decide whether or not this is an issue on which the OFT needs to take action.’
The OFT will be gathering information over the next six months and would like to hear from any interested party. It will publish its findings in Spring 2013.