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Comparative advertising based on prices in shops of different formats/sizes may be prohibited

March 2017

The Court of Justice ruled on advertising comparing prices of products on sale in shops of different sizes or formats. Such advertising is not objective and may be misleading, unless it clearly informs the consumer that the comparison concerns prices that the advertiser charges in shops of a size or format larger than those of the competing retail chains to which they are compared.


Carrefour ran television advertisements in which the prices of 500 leading brand products in its shops were compared to prices charged in shops of its competitors, including Intermarché. The advertising showed price differences in favour of Carrefour. However, the Carrefour shops selected for the purposes of price comparison were large shops (hypermarket format), while the Intermarché shops to which they were compared were smaller shops (supermarket format). The consumer could read on Carrefour's website that the lowest price guarantee only applied in the (large) "Carrefour" and "Carrefour Planet" shops, and hence not in the (smaller) "Carrefour Market", "Carrefour Contact" and "Carrefour City" shops. In the television advertisements, the word "super" appeared in smaller letters beneath the name "Intermarché".

The question arose whether the comparison met the requirements that prices must be compared in an objective way and that advertising must not be misleading.

The Court of Justice ruled that the objectivity of the comparison may be distorted where the advertiser and the competitors each have a range of shops of different sizes and formats, and the advertiser compares the prices charged in the shops of its retail chain having larger sizes or formats to the prices charged in the competing retail chains' shops having smaller sizes or formats, without that fact appearing in the advertisement (judgment of 8 February 2017 – C 562/15). Prices can indeed vary depending on the size or format of a shop. An asymmetric comparison may have the effect of artificially creating or increasing a price difference, depending on the selection of the shops used in the comparison.

An advertisement can also deceive the average consumer by giving the impression that the price differences are valid for all shops in the retail chains concerned, irrespective of their size or format, when that is not necessarily the case. This mistaken belief may cause the consumer to buy the products concerned in the advertiser's shops instead of in shops belonging to the competitors. Therefore, the advertising is misleading, unless the consumer is informed that the comparison has been made between the prices charged in shops in the advertiser's retail chain having larger sizes or formats and the prices charged in shops in the competitors' retail chains having smaller sizes or formats. In that case, the consumer will know that the price advantage promoted by the advertiser will only apply if he buys the products concerned in those shops within the advertiser's retail chain which have a certain size or format.

Furthermore, the Court of Justice ruled that the information regarding the difference in size and format of the shops constitutes material information for the consumer. This information must not only be clearly indicated, but must also be mentioned in the advertisement itself.

It is for the national court to ascertain whether Carrefour's television advertising complied with the above-mentioned conditions.

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