The Commerce Commission is working to stamp out misleading "pressure tactics" used by retailers to rush along purchases online.

"Only five rooms left", "the offer finishes in 24 hours" with a countdown or "[insert name] from Auckland just bought" are among messages that will now be vetted, as part of a focused priority area for the consumer watchdog in the next 12 months.

The Commerce Commission last week released a report outlining its priorities for the next 12 months. Online retailing is one of eight areas it has assigned resource to, to crack down on breaches of the Fair Trading and Consumer Guarantees Acts.

Antonia Horrocks, Commerce Commission general manager of competition and consumer, told the Herald the regulator recently identified pressure selling or "nudge" tactics as an area of concern within online retail.


"We're working to remind online retailers that representations like those need to be substantiated, they need to be proved and backed up at the time they are made," Horrocks said.

"If they are false or can not be substantiated they could be misleading consumers in breach of the Fair Trading Act."

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Pressure tactics were identified at the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network's (ICPEN) "Internet Sweep Day" where enforcement agencies from around the world reviewed websites at the same time to identify current sales tactics used online globally.

Horrocks said the regulator was committed to do more work to stamp out misleading sales tactics through both education and enforcement.

In the past 12 months the regulator focused on cracking down on fake or tweaked online reviews. It recently brought a case against Bachcare, charged for removing and manipulating negative online reviews.

Bachcare will appear in the Auckland District court on August 13.

The regulator first initiated online retail as an area of focus a year ago after it received an increasing number of complaints about issues consumers were facing when buying online.


"As businesses and consumers both move into an online retail environment there are different risks and opportunities around how people pay, information is collected, sales techniques and also the kind of visual cues consumers face when buying in an online shop," Horrocks said.

"There's a lot of exciting opportunities with technological change but consumers are feeling vulnerable about that, and whether their choices are being manipulated, and their personal information that is held."

The Commerce Commerce has made online retail area of focus for next 12 months. Photo / 123RF
The Commerce Commerce has made online retail area of focus for next 12 months. Photo / 123RF

Horrocks said making online retail a priority again was acknowledgement of how technology continued to change the way consumers and traders buy and sell.

Last year the commission ran a compliance programme which vetted 174 websites, it issued training resources for 40 businesses which had representations on their websites which swayed towards breaches of the Consumer Guarantees Act, she said.

"Sometimes the visual cues when shopping online, whether it is the written representation or other parts, are different to shopping in the physical world."

In the next 12 months, the commission would also continue to increase its efforts to work with international counterparts, Horrocks said. The case against online ticket reselling platform Viagogo, a recent example of this. Horrocks said the commission had to serve proceedings by diplomatic channels in Switzerland, where the company is based.

It would also continue its unannounced visit to stores to undertake investigations for its product safety work. In the commission's last year, it brought 18 prosecutions against toy importers and retailers which had sold unsafe product designed for children under the age of 36 months, and in turn breached the Fair Trading Act.