uses cookies to analyze how the website is used, and to improve the user experience. Read more about cookies

ACM: online deception often comes down to the smallest details

The difference between whether or not consumers are able to see and understand information on a website often comes down to the tiniest details of how that information is presented. This has been revealed by a study conducted by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) into the way in which businesses inform consumers online about their offerings. Minor changes to the design or phrasing can make a difference in that context. In order to ensure that businesses inform online consumers properly, ACM will conduct a follow-up study. In those follow-up studies, ACM will seek the cooperation of online providers. The results will offer online businesses additional guidance on how to design their websites in such a way that they inform consumers correctly, while not misleading them. With this study, ACM takes the next step in the practical implementation of the Guidelines on the protection of the online consumer.

Edwin van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, explains: “Consumers can be misled by the way in which businesses present information. Businesses must inform their customers correctly and clearly. They have a lot of knowledge about how to present such information, and what does and does not work when presenting information in order to prevent deception. That is why we wish to involve them in our follow-up study into what does and does not work for consumers.”

Recent studies into online information

ACM recently conducted various studies into the way in which businesses present their information online. It turned out that many methods used to present information in practice do not work well for consumers. However, implementing minor changes did help improve the comprehension and visibility of information tremendously. For example:

  • Consumers usually do not see information about additional costs under an ï”- symbol. If such information is presented directly near the price, it is spotted much more easily;
  • With paid ranking (or sponsored ranking), providers pay a fee in order to be among the top search results. Businesses that use paid ranking sometimes label the paid search result with ‘sponsored’. Consumers find this particular label unclear. The label ‘paid ranking’, on the other hand, helps consumers understand the information better. In addition, the color and position of the label influence visibility, too;
  • With regard to information about purchase conditions, such as the return policy, it turned out that the use of icons helps consumers understand the information better. Emphasizing the urgency (‘final opportunity to read the purchase conditions’) results in more consumers reading this information.
  • More information about the results of these studies can be found in this report.

Follow-up study

The above findings are reason for ACM to launch follow-up studies into the way consumers process online information. In those follow-up studies, ACM seeks the cooperation of businesses that offer online products and services to consumers. Together with those businesses, ACM wishes to gain insight into what does and does not work when informing consumers. This knowledge will help explain better the rules for online businesses about what they cannot (or can no longer) do, and how they are able to inform consumers properly.

Businesses that are interested in working together with ACM, please contact us by sending an email to effectievetransparantie [at] acm [punt] nl.

See also

20-05-2021 Studies into improving the provision of online information to consumers
02-02-2021 ACM sees risks associated with paid ranking for consumers and competition