The advertising referred to the following:
“…Price Bundles, Quality & Delivery…
Compare our Prices
Save up to 40% with www.thesisdirect.ie
Thesis Binding Guarantee!
No. 1 on price and quality for thesis printing and binding!
Compare our prices: Thesis Direct are up to 50% less expensive than other thesis binding firms and our quality is fantastic!
…Compare our prices with others. Most of our customers save at least €50 per standard order. Nobody beats us on quality, price or service. That’s our Guarantee to YOU!
Best value thesis printing and binding. Fastest available. 100% Reliable…”
The complainants, Reads Design, Print & Display (Reads) considered that the advertising contained misleading statements in relation to pricing, which they said could result in consumers paying more money than necessary for what they believed to be the best value. They said the statements causing them concern were:
1. Consumers can “save up to 40%” by using Thesis Direct services.
2. Thesis Direct are “up to 50% less expensive than other thesis binding firms”.
3. With Thesis Direct “most of our customers save at least €50 per standard order”
4. Thesis Direct are “No. 1 on price and quality for thesis printing and binding”.
5 The claim by Thesis Direct that “nobody beats us on quality, price or service. That’s our guarantee to you!”
Reads said that Thesis Direct charged €35 for the first two hard bound theses printed and €25 for additional copies. They also charged 7c per black and white printed page after an initial 100 free pages, and 35c per colour page. Soft binding cost €12 per copy and they used either wire binding or thermal binding. Reads said these prices had been taken either from the advertisers’ website or from emails sent to a member of Read’s staff by Thesis Direct.
Reads said their own business charged €25 for each hard binding, 5c per black and white page and 25c per colour page. The cost of Thermal binding was between €3.50 and €6.50 with wire binding costing between €3 and €7.50. Reads said it was their policy to charge a flat €2.50 handling fee to their customers for each transaction.
Reads acknowledged that they had a slightly different pricing plan to Thesis Direct. They said, however, that Thesis Direct charged 40% more than Reads per black and white page printed, 40% more for one or two hard bindings and at least 60% more for soft binding.
Reads said that while Thesis Direct gave 100 free pages with each order, this totalled only €7 off per order. They reiterated once again that the advertising was misleading in content.
The advertisers said that unlike other print companies they do not undertake any other activities, they concentrate solely on the thesis market which they believed allowed them to offer a superior quality service. They said it was often the case that if they found errors in a student’s thesis they would alert them to their mistakes and give them an opportunity to rectify them prior to going to print.
The advertisers said that the thesis market is highly competitive with nearly every major college city or town in Ireland having local producers. They said that small thesis binderies tended to use old technology and consequently incurred higher production costs per unit. As a business, Thesis Direct, competed directly with these local producers around the country and had competitive advantages in price, speed of service, knowledge of thesis academic requirements and direct delivery to the student or their college anywhere in Ireland. They said their ability to offer “next day” delivery was key to their business.
The advertisers acknowledged that Dublin was by far the most competitive market, due to the number of thesis producers fighting for market share from the big colleges and smaller independent colleges located there.
The advertisers provided the Executive with a price comparison spreadsheet on a confidential basis, based on a basket of their competitors’ prices throughout Ireland. They used the same items for comparative purposes, the only difference being that where competitors were serving a local market only, delivery charges were not included in the calculated price. The advertisers said their spreadsheet demonstrated that in all cases, bar one, they were the lowest cost competitor as indicated on their website. In the one case where they were not the lowest in price, it transpired that Reads were marginally lower for one particular order. Unlike Reads, however, they said they competed throughout Ireland not mainly Dublin, but nevertheless they still considered the spreadsheet which they had used to be the fairest comparison possible.
In addressing the specific points raised by their competitors, Reads, the advertisers said they considered that their spreadsheet had demonstrated that:
1. Consumers can save up to 40% by using their services.
2. They are 50% less expensive than other thesis binding firms.
3. Outside of the Dublin area their customers can save at least €50 per standard order”. While acknowledging that the Dublin market was more competitive on price they still considered themselves to be highly competitive in this area.
4. In relation to their statement that “nobody beats us on price or quality” they said that the posts on their Facebook Page demonstrated that their customers were very happy with the quality of their service.
5. In relation to the statement that “Nobody beats us on quality, price or service. That’s our guarantee to you!” they accepted that while this was a very general statement that was hard to prove or disprove that once again their Facebook page
demonstrated that this statement was true and not just promotional wording.
In conclusion the advertisers reiterated that their website was aimed at and configured for the national market while Reads strategic location enabled them to focus more so on the Dublin market.
The Complaints Committee considered the details of the complaint and the advertisers’ response. They considered that the claims involved were comparative claims against the whole thesis printing and binding market nationwide. The Committee noted the information provided in relation to savings and that the substantiation provided to the ASAI was based on a sample selection of other firms (including the complainant) using two standard orders.
In relation to the claim “Save up to 40% with www.thesisdirect.ie”, the Committee considered that the savings claim exaggerated the benefit that consumers were likely to achieve in practice in relation to at least one competitor, as the sample base was too small and did not demonstrate the that purported saving was representative of the market. They considered the claim to be in breach of Section 2.26.
In relation to the claim “No 1 on price and quality for thesis printing and binding!” the Committee noted that the complaint centred around the ‘price’ element of the claim. In this regard the Committee noted that this was an absolute claim and they did not consider that the substantiation submitted provided evidence for the claim in relation to price. They considered that the claim in was in breach of Section 2.9 of the Code.
In relation to the claim that the advertisers were “up to 50% less expensive than any other thesis binding firms ..”, the Committee noted, based on the substantiation provided, that savings ranged from 61% down to 1% across the 7 companies sampled and the two representative orders. They noted that just under 30% of the sample orders achieved savings of 50% or greater. At this level they would not consider that, all other things being equal, the claim exaggerated the benefits to be achieved. However, as the claim was a savings claim against “any other” thesis binding firm, and as the advertisers had only provided substantiation on a basket of competitors from across Ireland, the Committee did not consider that the substantiation provided had demonstrated the claim to in relation to “any other” thesis binding firm. They found that the claim was in breach of Sections 2.9, 2.22 and 2.24 of the Code.
In relation to the claim “most of our customers save at least €50 per standard order”, the Committee noted the substantiation provided and that in 10 out of 14 sample orders, customers saved €50 or greater. They were concerned however that the claim was against the whole market, and information was not provided as to the representativeness of the basket chosen. They also noted the advertisers’ comments in relation to the relative competitiveness of the Dublin market against the rest of the country. An unqualified claim that did not take account of the relevant criteria (in this case, geographic) was in the Committee’s opinion likely to mislead consumers and they found the claim concerned to be in breach of Sections 2.9, 2.22 and 2.24 of the Code.
In relation to the claim “nobody beats us on quality, price or service. That’s our guarantee to you”, the Committee noted that this was an unqualified claim which they did not consider had been supported by the substantiation provided. They considered the claim was in breach of Sections 2.9, 2.22 and 2.24 of the Code.
The claims in question should not be used again.