‘Stop online discounts to consumers,’ urges dealer

A leading retailer has hit back at the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the Bathroom Manufacturers Association (BMA) for failing to protect the interests of bricks-and-mortar retailers.

Gary Walmsley (pictured), owner of Posh Bathing in Bolton, suggested that KBB independents should boycott products that are sold online.

“I would love to know the figure nationally for how many people have purchased from the internet after visiting a high street store,” he said. “What’s the point of associations like the BMA if they don’t look after the interests of the once core outlets of their members’ businesses?

“Maybe it’s time for KBB independents to stand tall and boycott products sold cheaply through online merchants that don’t have a bona fide showroom.”

Walmsley added that it was unfair on high-street shops to have to pay for displays when they are being used for information for customers to then go and search for a better price online.

“BMA members must surely recognise the unfairness of showrooms having to pay for displays only to have sales taken away from them, because the perception is that the internet is cheaper,” he said. “The BMA is really a manufacturers’ association, and it looks after its own. However, manufacturers genuinely want to showcase their products in the high street, so the public can view them. There’s just no balance, or not enough to keep all parties satisfied.”

Walmsley also hit out at the CMA for not looking into deceptive discounts that involve price hiking before a discount is applied. Instead, it refused to rule out issuing further heavy fines to companies who fix resale prices. These have included bathroom supplier Ultra Finishing and commercial refrigeration company Foster Refrigeration.

“When is the CMA going to look into 70% discounts?” he asked. “Discounts, if they are not genuine, amount to price-hiking to give a headline discount, and that to me is deception, quite frankly.

“If, say, a branded product RRP is £200 and our discount is 40%, for example, we simply buy that product at £120, so there’s no way you can sell at anything over 35%.

“So, let’s just say that a product on the internet with no brand pedigree, but with a similar usage, is £120, following a 70% discount. Put the discount back on and it’s higher – but we all know that, in reality, it’s only worth £120 at full retail.”

Walmsley went on to claim that he gets offered “mountains” of cheaper products from places like China.

He added: “I had one tyre-kicker in the showroom, a while back, who just asked me, after a tour of the studio, if I had anything similar to B&Q. This is what we have to put up with.”

Responding to Walmsley’s concerns, a CMA spokesperson said: “Ultra’s practice of setting minimum online prices stopped retailers from offering discounted prices online, reducing competition across online and ‘bricks and mortar’ sales, and denying consumers the benefit of lower prices for bathroom fittings. The CMA is committed to tackling illegal practices both online and off-line and we recently fined a company selling light fittings for similar online price maintenance practices. The CMA works to tackle badly labelled discounts on and off-line – to make sure shoppers really are getting a good deal when special offers are marked – most recently discount labelling was improved by Asda in response to CMA work. Any concerns about a specific company and its business practices should be reported to the CMA.”

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