The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) has reprimanded Yogoma for its misleading commercial practices. Yogoma sells health and beauty products online such as Artichoke Slim, Hydrodermal, Hydroduo, Konjac Plus, Shimendu.com, and Swiss Pharma Lab. Consumers were persuaded online to try ‘free’ samples. Consumers subsequently received unsolicited periodic follow-up shipments at 59.95 euros each, without having actually agreed to them. Moreover, the first sample shipment turned out not to be free either. Consumers not only had to pay delivery fees, but, if they did not return the sample on time, they also had to pay 59.95 euros. This is not allowed, unless consumers have been clearly informed in advance.
Edwin van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, explains: “Consumers should be able to have confidence in the offers they find online. ‘Free’ should truly be free. If consumers get a subscription to follow-up shipments, they will have to be informed clearly about that fact. Subscriptions will only take effect once consumers have agreed to them.”
ACM has reprimanded the company, because its practices violate consumer protection rules. Furthermore, through its actions, the company also undermined the confidence of consumers when purchasing products and services online. Yogoma has committed to stop sending follow-up shipments without the explicit consent of consumers.
Websites have been adjusted
Urged by ACM, the company has made adjustments to its websites. As a result thereof, consumers will no longer be stuck with subscriptions after placing just a single order. The company will also stop sending payment reminders to consumers that had previously received unsolicited follow-up shipments and had carried out a payment reversal. Over the next few months, ACM will continue to monitor this situation, for example, by keeping track of consumer reports submitted to ACM ConsuWijzer, ACM’s consumer information portal.
Most of the time, ‘free’ is not free at all
Advertisements and websites for supposedly ‘free’ products are often misleading. Consumers are not clearly informed that they need to cancel the agreement and return the product within 14 days after receiving the product, in order not to be bound to the purchase. This is often only mentioned in the fine print. That is not allowed. Consumers are only bound to an agreement if they have explicitly said ‘yes’ to it. However, many consumers do not know this rule, and feel pressured to pay anyway, sometimes even pressured by a debt collection agency.
Protection of online consumers
The Digital Economy is a topic on the 2020 ACM Agenda. It is important that consumers are able to navigate online markets with confidence. In the final months of last year, ACM saw the number of reports about online misleading practices rise again, for example involving these ‘free’ samples.
Swift approach to consumer problems
ACM has many different instruments at its disposal for solving consumer problems. When selecting the right approach, ACM puts the effects of its actions first. In this case, ACM prefers to reprimand the company in order to solve the problem quickly. In other situations, ACM could, after concluding an investigation, opt for imposing a fine or an order subject to periodic penalty payments.