Still recovering from the holiday sales? If you’re a retailer or a manufacturer pricing your own products, don’t forget about the state laws governing promotional pricing and deceptive pricing claims. The state of California certainly hasn’t – on Friday, a California judge issued an almost $6.82 million civil penalty against Overstock.com via a tentative ruling and proposed statement of decision regarding the company’s comparative price advertising. The court also imposed stringent injunctive provisions regarding comparative price advertising. Yesterday, Overstock announced that it will appeal.
The complaint alleged that Overstock made false and misleading price comparisons to products’ “advertised retail price” (“ARP”), in violation of California’s False Advertising Law and Unfair Competition Law. Specifically, the state alleged that Overstock exaggerated the Overstock discount by referencing the highest price found for the ARP or constructing an ARP using a formula that applied an arbitrary multiplier to Overstock’s wholesale cost. Additionally, the company allegedly failed to disclose that some ARPs were based on the retail price of a similar, but non-identical, product. The court concluded that comparisons to ARPs identified as “list prices” and based on a formula or the price of a different, non-identical product were false and misleading representations, and every such ARP was an untrue statement because those ARPs did not actually exist. The court dismissed Overstock’s argument that its pricing strategy caused no consumer harm because customers always received the lowest price available on the internet, ruling that harm is presumed when an ad is demonstrated to be false, deceptive, or misleading.