Are online deals always all they seem?

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online dealsWho doesn't love online deals? In today's climate of savvy shopping and with the emphasis on true value in the midst of the recession, most of us will have at some point turned to the web to provide ourselves with stellar discounts on the things we need the most.

But are these online deals always what they say they are? Whilst there are certainly hundreds of perfectly legitimate discounts on offer each and every week, a new initiative from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is sending out a warning to companies which offer online deals - making sure they are not trying to trick people into thinking they are getting better deals than they actually are.

The OFT has sent letters to 35 discount websites asking them to conduct reviews into their business practices - following an earlier investigation into popular site Groupon, which has since altered some of its procedures to keep the watchdog happy.

Groupon was given three months to change its business as it was found it was potentially breaching consumer regulations and misleading its more than one million customers.

How can we be misled?

So how exactly are these sites accused of confusing people like us into thinking we're getting more for our money than we think? Well, as the OFT explained to the Sunday Times, there are several popular devices being used and it is these which have become the target of the crackdown.

The OFT has found that many internet shoppers are often saving much less money than is being claimed, with many sites regularly advertising discounts of up to 90% on services, activities and goods - taken up by thousands of us each day.

But several of these are subject to restrictions on when exactly they can be claimed and many more appear to be placed under limited time restrictions, when on further inspection they can actually be used for a far lengthier period of time.

This practice, it is claimed, can push customers into "rash decisions", sending them into panic that a deal is too good to miss, when in fact, if afforded a reasonable amount of time to consider, the customer may feel differently about the deal.

'Price baiting' is another method the OFT believes is rife within the world of internet deals. This draws customers in with seemingly astonishing offers that quite literally are 'too good to be true' and cannot be fulfilled.

The watchdog claims the Groupon investigation set the benchmark for all future enquiries into discount websites and that a clear standard of conduct is now paramount, with no tricks or unrealistic boasts acceptable.

Stay alert

While many firms have been asked to take a look at their online practices, there are still many fabulous deals out there just crying out to be taken advantage of!

Often the discrepancies the OFT has raised come more in the form of the wording of the offer, rather than the validity of the deal itself, so providing you have scrutinised the small print carefully and feel comfortable with the true value of any savings made, there's nothing to stop you and your family snapping up the best of the price cuts online.

Whether it's discounts on family days out with the kids or even just getting a few pence off at the supermarket, internet deals are useful and are here to stay - and once the OFT has created a level playing field, hopefully more and more families will be able to start enjoying them in full.