3 retailers ditch ads for sales that never seem to end

Signs by ABC Bargain Centre, ABC Express, ValuDollar may mislead consumers about price benefits: Watchdog

The retailers have voluntarily undertaken to remove all advertisements proclaiming a "fire sale" at their outlets.
The retailers have voluntarily undertaken to remove all advertisements proclaiming a "fire sale" at their outlets.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Residents who have recently visited ABC Bargain Centre, ValuDollar or ABC Express outlets will have noticed that the seemingly permanent "closing down sale" and "fire sale" signs are nowhere to be seen.

Yesterday, the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) said the owners and operators of the three retail brands have voluntarily ceased the use of these advertisements from Sept 30.

In a statement, the CCCS said advertisements bearing such language convey the impression that discounts are offered because the business is closing down and that the bargains are to be had for only a short while.

In September last year, The Straits Times reported that an ABC Bargain Centre outlet in Potong Pasir proclaimed it was having a "closing down sale" for a period of almost two years.

Noting that such advertisements were displayed continuously without reference to an end date at the three retailers' outlets, the CCCS said they could mislead consumers into believing there is a price benefit available for a limited period.

Misleading consumers in such a manner constitutes an unfair practice in breach of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA), said the consumer watchdog.

The retailers have voluntarily undertaken to remove all advertisements proclaiming a "fire sale" at their outlets.

They will also not advertise their products as being available at a discount for a limited period of time if they know they will be available for longer, or unless the outlet is genuinely closing.

When no genuine price benefit or advantage underlying the advertisement exists, the retailers also will not advertise their products as discounted.

In addition, they have to ensure their franchisees are aware of the advertising obligations as well.

The retailers have also agreed to cooperate with the CCCS on an ongoing basis to ensure that advertising obligations are met and that they are in compliance with the CPFTA.

The watchdog said it is closely monitoring other businesses that engage in similar unfair practices and urged all businesses to ensure their practices comply with the CPFTA.

On Nov 1, the CCCS' guidelines on price transparency will come into effect. They provide more clarity on consumer protection laws and set out factors and circumstances that the commission may consider in assessing if advertised prices and related practices are potentially misleading.

Under the CPFTA, the CCCS is empowered to investigate errant businesses and file injunction applications against them. If they do not cease the unfair practice, they can be charged with contempt of court, which carries a fine of up to $10,000, up to a year's imprisonment, or both.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2020, with the headline '3 retailers ditch ads for sales that never seem to end'. Print Edition | Subscribe