The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has reprimanded Stay Healthy Products for using misleading commercial practices. ACM received complaints from consumers who thought that the products they ordered were free. Stay Healthy Products, an online retailer of nutritional supplements and personal-care products, promoted these products in online advertisements as ‘free’, ‘samples’, or ‘trial products’. It subsequently turned out that consumers did have to pay if they did not return the products on time (at their own expense). Stay Healthy Products has now stopped offering ‘free’ products, and has promised that consumers who received these products do not have to pay for them. They also do not have to return those products.
Free products should be genuinely free
“Consumers should be able to trust offers they find online. Free should be genuinely free,” says Edwin van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department. In most cases, the information that products must be returned within 14 days after receiving them in order not to be stuck with the purchases is mentioned in the fine print. In addition, consumers are often stuck with unsolicited follow-up shipments, where only the first shipment is ‘free’. This is not allowed. You are only bound to a purchase if you explicitly said ‘yes’ and were aware of the costs. In the case of Stay Healthy Products, consumers were charged 59.95 euros after receiving the product, and after the cooling-off period expired. Many consumers do not know that they are not required to pay, and feel pressured by the debt collection letters sent by companies.
Swift approach to consumer problems
ACM has many different instruments at its disposal for solving consumer problems. When selecting the right approach, ACM puts consumers first. In this case, ACM chooses to reprimand the company in order to solve the problem. ACM can also impose a fine and/or an order subject to periodic penalty payments, following an investigation. In 2019, ACM asked its Latvian counterpart to take action against Aliaz Cooperation, which, just like Stay Healthy Products, misled consumers with ‘free products’ using brand names such as horsepowerplus.eu, tentigo.eu, dragonslim.com and fatkiller.nu. The Latvian consumer authority recently announced that Aliaz Cooperation was fined 90,000 euros for those misleading practices.