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Amazon told to stop burying cost of Prime in small print

Barry Collins
4 Mar 2015
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Advertising watchdog rebukes Amazon for the free trial that sneakily turns into a £79 subscription

Amazon has been rebuked by the advertising watchdog for failing to reveal the true cost of its Amazon Prime subscription. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld complaints from six individuals, who argued that Amazon didn't make it clear that a paid subscription would automatically kick in after a free trial, and didn't state what the cost of that subscription would be.

Amazon Prime originally started as a subscription service offering unlimited next-day deliveries, but has since expanded to include access to the company's video streaming service, Kindle books and unlimited photo storage. It is aggressively marketed to new and existing customers alike, but many - including prominent Times critic Giles Coren - have complained that they weren't aware they were committing to a subscription after the free trial had expired.

The specific complaint addressed by the ASA concerns a direct mailshot sent to Amazon account holders, which included a plastic card offering a "30-day free trial" of Amazon Prime. Only in the small print of the accompanying letter was it revealed that a "paid subscription starts automatically after free trial unless cancelled".

In its defence, Amazon claimed the offer terms "would have been easily noticeable to customers when reading the letter, given its relative size, and considered it was large enough to be readily legible". It also noted that customers could cancel their Prime subscription the day after signing up and still receive 30 days of Prime for free.

That didn't wash with the advertising watchdog, which ruled that it was insufficient "to include the information about the automatic paid subscription in the small print of the ad only" and was "likely to mislead". Amazon was also ticked off for failing to mention the cost of the Prime subscription (currently £79 per year), arguing that the "amount of the subscription fee was material information and a condition of the offer of which consumers should be made aware". 

The ASA is, however, the most chocolatey of teapots, and only ever punishes misleading advertisers by telling them not to run the ad in its current form again. Given that Amazon stated in its defence that it had already stopped running the offending campaign, it's barely even a slap on the wrist for the retailer. 

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