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Rewards scheme operator Webloyalty is on the sharp end of some ferocious comments from consumers who feel they have been misled.
The company operates an online rewards scheme through companies such as Interflora, to offer new customers the chance to save money on future purchases at participating retailers. When customers opt to take part in the rewards scheme (by entering and confirming an email address) Webloyalty signs them up to its programme.
What many customers don't seem to realise, based on various forum threads, is that it will cost them £8 per month (after a one-month trial period), and that Webloyalty gets their credit card details from the retailer.
This procedure, or lack of, has resulted in a number of complaints from consumers who say they have been signed up for the scheme without being made aware of any charges. Many only noticed when looking at credit card statements.
A quick search on Google reveals a number of complaints from consumers who fell they have been misled by the company. This site, for instance, has over 170 such complaints. Ouch.
The question of course is whether consumers are at fault, for not reading the offer carefully, or whether Webloyalty is not being transparent enough.
How does it work?
When users complete a purchase at Interflora, they are directed to this page:
To sign up, users need to enter and verify their email address, then Webloyalty will use the card details from the transaction (with the retailer's say-so) to bill the customer £8 per month. As we mentioned, there is a 30 day trial during which customers may cancel... but surely they'll only do this if they have worked out what they've signed up to in the first place? If a customer doesn’t cancel before the end of this period, then they will be billed monthly.
How does it stack up?
Online customer experience expert Dr Mike Baxter of SalesLogiq analysed Webloyalty’s offer page, and he thinks that the way that the page is laid out makes the offer unclear.
Web users often scan rather than read webpages, and tend to pay more attention to the top part of the page, and this may be the reason why some customers have not noticed the terms of the offer.
According to Baxter:
“Best practice suggests adopting a pyramid writing approach to web copy. The page title should summarise the proposition, the leading paragraph should explain it in slightly more detail and the rest of the copy should provide details, benefits and limitations – the small print.”
That's the inverted pyramid folks, beloved of journalists the world over. But it doesn't take a genius to work out that Webloyalty might be doing considerably better by not adopting this approach. At least in the short term, until the complaints flood in. But whether through accident or design, is the company to blame, or should consumers be more responsible for their actions?
The trouble with shoppers
Consumers have a habit of ignoring the small print, when signing up to T&Cs, and then complaining. Webloyalty can't be accused of skimping on the detail.
There is a hell of a lot to digest here, and all this text has the advantage of making the ‘£10 Cash Back Voucher’ stand out all the more. Accident, or design?
The actual terms of the deal are the least noticeable, least readable parts of the page:
Consumers should be reading these terms. It's hard to be too sympathetic.
Here is the key detail of the offer, which includes the nut of the issue (the £8 a month) and also the fact that the retailer will hand over the precious card details:
A suggested fix
Dr Baxter suggests that Webloyalty should put the offer at the top of the page, and make it ‘unmistakably clear’ as to what customers are signing up for (given that they are simply entering their email address, no credit card numbers...).
“The call to action needs to make it unmistakably clear what clicking the Yes button commits you to – I would suggest that the way it is presented currently is misleadingly deceptive; knowing what we do about how customers interact with web sites.”
“I would suggest that customers should certainly be required to actively opt-in to the £8/month. It would be appropriate to require double opt-in – they click the checkbox to receive an email and then have to click the return link on the web site before they are signed up.”
The Webloyalty position
But a fix looks rather unlikely, based on what Webloyalty Marketing Director Gill Hynes told us. She claims that the firm's signup process has been looked at by CAP, the DMA and WebTrader, all of which have approved the offer.
Hynes feels that the terms of the offer are made clear to customers:
"We repeat the core information about the offer in five different places on the sign up page. In addtion, we make it easy for customers to opt out via our website or by telephone."
Ok, great. For what it's worth we officially don't approve of the way the offer is communicated, based on the sheer weight of complaints, the thoughts of Dr Baxter, and what we know about how consumers operate. Not the offer itself, but the way it is communicated.
Part of the problem may be that web shoppers are unfamiliar with offers like this and wouldn't expect to be signing up (to have money debited from their card) simply by entering their email address. For a newsletter, maybe, but for a paid-subscription, no. Consumers also need to wise up when it comes to reading terms and conditions, and seemingly about the affiliations of retailers during the signup process.
Who is to blame?
The customers? Webloyalty? Think again. This sort of thing is hugely damaging for retailers if you look at the customer complaints based around the Interflora / Webloyalty offer (which I'll add verbatim - grammar police take note):
"Interflora know fully well what is happening and are doing nothing!"
"That's the last time I use Interflora - surely this is bad for their business."
"Interflora must be aware that this company are carrying out shady business practices ... Interflora customers beware."
"Interflora are actively hoodwinking its customers."
"I hope Interflora go bust."
So while it could be argued that consumers need to wise up, Webloyalty would do well to deflect this ongoing criticism - and the obvious damage to its clients - by simply improving how the offer is communicated.
Online Retail 2007: Checkout Special