ACCC hauls Dell to court for allegedly misleading customers

ACCC hauls Dell to court for allegedly misleading customers

Alleges Dell made false or misleading representations on its website about the prices of monitors and the potential savings.

Credit: Dreamstime

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has instituted Federal Court proceedings against Dell Australia for allegedly making false or misleading representations regarding the price of monitors that consumers could add on to purchases of Dell computers.

This has affected approximately 2,100 customers, Dell said. 

The allegations ACCC is making involve the period from at least August 2019 to 16 December 2021, where Dell Australia is claimed to have made false or misleading representations on its website about the prices of monitors and the potential savings when a monitor was purchased with a computer.

According to the consumer watchdog, when a consumer selected a Dell desktop, laptop, or notebook for purchase on the Dell website, the consumer was offered the option of adding a monitor during the check-out process. Often, the monitor was allegedly shown with a higher price in strikethrough, representing a significant saving.

The ACCC alleges the monitors were not sold for the ‘strikethrough’ price for most of the relevant time and, in some cases, the add-on price shown was more expensive than if the monitor was bought on a stand-alone basis.

“We allege that Dell Australia made false, misleading or deceptive statements on its website to entice consumers to add on monitors to the purchase of a computer by displaying false or misleading discounts,” ACCC Commissioner Liza Carver said.

“Cases involving allegations of misleading ‘was/now’ pricing by large retailers of consumer goods are a priority for the ACCC. 

“Businesses should be well aware of their legal requirements and should have effective compliance programs in place to prevent this type of consumer harm.”

In a statement, a Dell spokesperson said due to an error in Dell's pricing processes, there was incorrect information displayed on its website about the pricing and savings associated with certain monitors.

"This occurred during a two and a half-year period and we believe it affected approximately 2,100 customers," Dell said. "We have fully cooperated with the ACCC throughout their investigation, have been working with impacted customers to provide appropriate refunds plus interest and are taking steps to improve our pricing processes to ensure this sort of error does not happen again. 

"Dell has de-activated that functionality on the website and we are actively working to update our systems to prevent the error from re-occurring."

Carver said these proceedings were also significant because the alleged misleading conduct related to the online marketing of computers and monitors was at a time when many families were in COVID-19 lockdown. 

“We know that many consumers turned to online purchases to buy equipment for working and schooling from home,” she said. 

“While the total number of misled consumers is unknown, we believe many thousands of consumers were sold an add-on monitor which was advertised with a representation that an inflated discount applied.”

Among the statements made about the ‘discounted’ price of add-on monitors on Dell’s website were “total savings”, “includes x per cent off”, “discounted price”, and “get the best price for popular accessories when purchased with this product”.

“We have commenced these proceedings because we are concerned that Dell’s presentation of allegedly inflated discounts meant some consumers may have added monitors to their purchase which they may not have otherwise bought, or which they could have bought more cheaply from another section of Dell’s website,” Carver said.

The ACCC is seeking penalties, declarations, consumer redress, costs and other orders.

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