Online shopping veterans are no strangers to the tactic of crossing out a price tag to make the “sale” price more appealing, even if neither number has any real relation to the actual price. Dell is certainly familiar with the tactic, as an Australian government agency just fined the company millions of dollars for deceptive markdowns on PC monitors. In some cases the “discount” price wasn’t just a fib in relation to the actual retail price, it was higher than the same monitor bought in another section of Dell’s online store.
According to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, Dell pushed customers to purchase monitors “bundled” with new desktops, with a crossed-out price next to a sale price indicating (if not actually stating) that the buyers were getting a discount on the screens at checkout. On the contrary, not only were the original prices and discounts overstated, in some cases customers would have saved money if they’d bought the monitors separately.
This practice violates portions of Australian Consumer Law, and the ACCC has demanded Dell pay a $6.5 million fine, in addition to repaying customers as already ordered. In total, computer buyers spent $2 million Australian dollars on monitors via the deceptive practice. In a statement, a Dell spokesperson said that the whole thing was “an error in Dell’s pricing process.”
As Ars Technica notes, this kind of flim-flammery is hardly unique to Dell, though Australia’s particular consumer protection laws have caught the company with its proverbial pants down. Deceptive discount labeling has become commonplace in online shopping, particularly around large sales events like Black Friday or Amazon’s self-styled Prime Day. Some computer vendors are especially fond of the practice. Lenovo laptops are almost never seen at their “retail price” on the company’s online store, with frequent alleged discounts of hundreds of dollars bringing ThinkPads and IdeaPads down to their more realistic regular prices.