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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.

The detail
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."

Ouch.

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.

Related stories:
New rewards scheme launches in the UK
Establishing trust in the buying process

Related research:
Online Retail 2007: Checkout Special 

Graham Charlton

Published 6 November, 2007 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (13)

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Andy Campbell

Find myself caught after months of debits went unnoticed. Barclays
Bank fraud team identified £8.00 monthly unauthorised debits traced to www.lastminute.com (an online travel booking 'service')
I've e-mailed Lastminute.com but don't expect much sympathy and called Shopperdiscounts&rewards.co.uk on +44 (0) 808 234 1539 to no effect.
I shall rely on Barclays to re-credit my account and chargeback thw crooks at Shopper Discount. They must be raking it in still, if they are able to refund those who push hard enough to get a refund. Nice cash flow excercise!
Wasting everyone's time. Shut them down USA!

over 8 years ago

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David Julian Barnes

Me too. Absolutely disgraceful. I got this sleeze infection (Webloyalty) from easyJet offering 10 cashback after I booked some flights.

over 8 years ago

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Sue B

I too got caught through booking with Easyjet and by clicking on the £10 cashback button. I was charged for 4 months. I rang the number given on Andy's email and got a very grumpy operator. She agreed to cancel my "account". The email showing termination of the account came immediately. I replied to it (although it said that was not possible) and asked for a refund of £32. Strangely, an email appeared in a few minutes, agreeing to refund the money. I hope to see the refund soon. I can understand why some people might not notice until they have paid out a lot. The information was certainly unclear and emails from Shopper Discounts and Rewards went to my Spam box anyway, so some could delete them without reading.
If anyone else has been stung, ask for your money back and I hope you get it.

over 8 years ago

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Georgia Taylor

I too have been caught out by these crooks. I bought tickets through Easyjet and like others did not notice that the discount offer came with an £8 monthly charge. Webloyalty have said they will refund the £32 they have extracted from my credit card but I have yet to see the refund on my account.

The company I am most annoyed with is Easyjet who should not associate themselves with this sharp practice. I intend to write to them.

over 8 years ago

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steve

I too havre been ripped of by this company after sending flowers via inta flora (a company i will never use again now)...i have just cancelled my "membership" & informed they will re inburse my 17 payments of £8.....yeah rite & i'm lord bleeding lucan...

about 8 years ago

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carla

ello
does enny one can tell me how to solve this problem im been charged 8£ every month from my credict card is there enny number i can call to cancel the acount

about 8 years ago

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Peter Tanczos

I am also being charged for 'webloyalty' on my card 2x£10 per month.

Can enyone tell me how to cancell this rippoff?

over 7 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@ Robert really? that is amusing...

over 7 years ago

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John

Hi

My wife was caught up in this as well. She booked a flight with Jet2 and the form shown on this blog appeared. Thinking that she was signing up for Jet2 points, she filled it in and off it went. They took 5 lots of £10 from my account and I can only call this skimming as they did not ask for any CC details. I only noticed it when we did not use that particular credit card that month and it was the only transaction shown. At present, I am trying to get the money back from the CC company. Will let you know if I have any sucess.

over 7 years ago

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lilian

I joined this shoppers discount after I booked a flight with ryanair yesterday.and no I did not notice that I have to  pay a monthly fee.

I also booked another flight with ryanair hoping to get my £15.00 cashback. to make things worst I also ordered somthing else through Dabs which it said I will get 10 per cent back which should be aroud £30.00 , my question is has anybody got the cashback, and is it a scam if you do not shop through shoppers discount link. or should I cancel it straight away.

about 7 years ago

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Kevin

Likewise scammed checking out on Savastore, just noticed the charges from 3 months back and no I have never received any cashback despite applying for it. I noted on the web there was a class action against them in the US which they settled, perhaps some legal firm here might want to take it up in the UK as well. Can't believe that companies that I thought were reputable signed up for this, Savastore, Ryanair, Interflora you've lost me and I hope thousands of others through trying to con us on this, there is NO way your legal teams wouldn't have told you what you were doing here or been unaware of the class action in the USA

about 7 years ago

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Henry

I was offered £15 from shopperdiscountandrewards off my next flight when I booked with Ryanair.  I booked another flight in August and sent them the details, I never got the £15 but just found they have taken three lots of £10 from my bank account.   I rang them to complain and was offered a £10 refund,  I got a bit cross and told them I would get in touch with the TV program watchdog and then got offered the whole £30,  I quickly got an email saying this would arrive in about 10 days and they have closed my account.  I hope I have more luck getting this money than the £15 which was promised in 4 to 6 weeks.

about 7 years ago

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nina

I have been strung for this through Ticketmaster but guess what I haven't used Ticketmaster for over a year! Nor do I recall signing up for this scheme - I have worked in marketing for over 25 years and am pretty canny about these 'schemes' and how they work - I avoid like the plague.

Anyway got all charges refunded - if you call and insist.

almost 7 years ago

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