The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said John Lewis had advertised Apple Watch devices for sale for £249 on 'Black Friday' but prevented some online consumers from carrying out the purchase on its website despite the fact it still had stock available.
John Lewis said it had withdrawn the availability of the devices for sale in "good faith" because it feared it would not be able to fulfil demand for the product amidst "an unprecedented increase in sales" spurred by the promotional offer, according to the ASA.
The retailer said it was "disappointed" by the ASA's decision that its offer had breached the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotions and Direct Marketing (CAP Code).
A consumer had complained to the ASA about the promotional offer, which was triggered on the John Lewis' website by the company's policy of matching the price for goods on offer at competitors.
"We’re disappointed by the ASA’s decision," a spokesperson for John Lewis said in a statement. "We believe this is due to a misunderstanding of the difference between a one day unplanned price match applied because of our Never Knowingly Undersold policy and planned John Lewis four day Black Friday promotions. We are reviewing how we communicate multiple messages about prices and promotions to avoid any possible confusion happening again."
"We had very limited stock and continued to sell the watches in our shops, matching the competitor's promotion for the one day that it ran. Removing stock from sale is not a decision we would take lightly," the spokesperson said.
Special rules governing promotional offers are set out in the CAP Code. Promoters are required to "conduct their promotions equitably, promptly and efficiently and be seen to deal fairly and honourably with participants and potential participants". They must also "avoid causing unnecessary disappointment".
The ASA said: "[We] considered that the rate at which a product sold was likely to increase when the price was lowered temporarily, and that there would therefore be an increased risk that it would sell out. We acknowledged that the offer arose from John Lewis' Price Match policy rather than a price promotion they had planned. However, while we acknowledged the surrounding circumstances, we considered John Lewis' action to make a product unavailable on their website while their competitor's promotion was still running denied online consumers the opportunity to purchase at the Price Match price, despite John Lewis still having stock available."
"We considered John Lewis had not conducted the promotion fairly, resulting in unnecessary disappointment. We therefore concluded that the promotion had breached the Code," it said.
John Lewis was ordered by the ASA not to run the ad again. The watchdog also told the retailer to "ensure they dealt fairly with consumers in future" and "to avoid causing unnecessary disappointment and not to withhold availability of promotional stock".