Recently, Lowe’s began advertising what appeared to be a great sale on major appliances — 20% off. Here is the advertisement that ran during the 60 Minutes broadcast last week:
Click play button.
Seems pretty straightforward and unambiguous, right?
Oh, but then there’s some hard to read fine print (and our video quality doesn’t help matters). So, here is a close-up:
And if you still can’t read that, here is what it says:
“Valid 8/10 – 8/23. Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Amana, GE, LG, Samsung, Frigidaire, Electrolux and Bosch brands limited to a maximum 10% discount, unless otherwise shown. See store for more details and more exclusions. US only.”
Huh? First we’re seemingly told that the only restriction on getting 20% off appliances is that they have to sell for over $395. Then we learn that virtually all the most popular appliance brands are excluded from the 20% off sale and are only 10% off?
Incidentally, the online disclaimer lists additional brands that don’t qualify for any discount at all off the regular price:
So what brands are the full 20% off? For common major appliances, the Lowe’s website for a Massachusetts store only lists these additional brands: Haier, Hotpoint, Premier, Sharp, and Tappan. All of them that displayed the regular Lowe’s price (not MSRP) showed only a 10% off discount. Interestingly, despite the ad’s disclaimer, some models of the excluded brands were indeed at least 20% off.
According to enforcement policy of the Federal Trade Commission it is actually considered an unfair or deceptive practice for the big print to giveth and the little print to taketh away:
Advertisements often contain fine-print footnotes or video superscripts that attempt to disclaim, limit, modify, or explain claims made elsewhere in the ad. Advertisers cannot use fine print to contradict other statements in an ad or to clear up misimpressions the ad would otherwise leave.
Last Monday morning, Consumer World contacted the Lowe’s headquarters about these issues and to also ask if they would pull or revise the advertisement. It was not until Wednesday afternoon that we got the news that the company saw the light and yanked the ad. They said “there was a misstep in the editing process” and would modify it by adding “up to 20% off” in the headline. We suggested that that still would not fully remedy the problem, so some additional suggestions were made.
By Friday, true to their word, Lowe’s added the words “up to” to the commercial but did not take any of the other suggestions offered:
Consumers watching TV have a right to be told the straight poop about any offer and not have to freeze the picture to read almost unreadable fine print. As noted in the press release we issued last week about this matter, we have filed complaints with the FTC, the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office.
We welcome your thoughts in the comments.