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Singapore issues retail guidelines for price comparisons, discounts and free offers

IN A move to protect shoppers from being misled, the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS) has issued guidelines to retailers and other suppliers of goods and services in giving discounts and free offers, as well as when making price comparisons.

The guidelines, which come into effect on Nov 1, cover four key pricing practices - drip pricing, price comparison, discounts and "free" offers. The guidelines apply to both online and brick-and-mortar sellers.

In drip pricing, the CCCS says suppliers must include in the total headline price any "unavoidable and mandatory charges" such as taxes, surcharges and service fees.

"Where such charges cannot be reasonably calculated in advance, suppliers should disclose the existence of such charges in a clear and prominent manner together with the headline price," the agency said in a media statement on Monday.

Subsequent fees that the supplier or third party may charge shoppers should also be spelt out.

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According to the statement, suppliers are further "encouraged" to alert shoppers to optional add-ons by adopting an "opt-in" or "opt-neutral" approach.

"This enables consumers to actively check/tick a box to select the specified add-ons or options they want," CCCS said.

When making comparisons with the prices of other retailers, CCCS said suppliers must ensure prices are not false or misleading. Suppliers should do their research regularly and compare only prices of goods and services accepted to be similar or equivalent by shoppers or trade norms.

Suppliers should also check and update reference prices used for price comparison regularly, and keep records of them to prove that the comparisons are genuine.

CCCS said that a discount offered by suppliers must represent a real price benefit - the basis for the discount must be valid. Where it is a time-limited discount, suppliers should state the time period clearly and accurately.

For "free" offers, the price of the good or service should be S$0, according to the CCCS.

"Any qualifiers, subsequent/deferred charges, and key terms and conditions imposed on consumers as a result of their acceptance of the good or service should be stated clearly and prominently together with the 'free' representation," it added.

Said CCCS chief executive Sia Aik Kor: "These guidelines aim to give suppliers greater clarity on how to comply with the CPFTA (Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act). Suppliers should ensure that their prices are represented accurately and communicated clearly and prominently so that consumers can make informed choices and shop confidently."

She added that suppliers also stand to gain because fair-trading practices can go a long way to build a solid reputation as a trusted retailer. "In short, the guidelines help to build a credible marketplace."

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