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Discounters have to play fairImage: dpa

Discounter Warned Of "Dodgy Dealing"

DW staff (tkw)
July 12, 2005

A German court has passed a ruling ordering big budget value supermarket, Lidl to embrace the idea of fair trading and stop misleading customers by promising goods which have long sold out.


Cheap discount stores are very much a part of the fabric of German supermarket shopping, with Lidls and Aldis dotting and some might say, blotting, the landscape around most towns and cities.

And thanks to globalization, the scene is not dissimilar across much of Europe.

Lidl flyers promising anything from cheap pink plastic sandals to the best value ladies' bicycles litter the streets and the letter boxes of much of Germany. They're a colorful, printed fanfare of what marvelous bargains are to be had at an astonishing array of budget stores.

But for the most part, the goods displayed on them have sold out before the bargain hunters have even had the chance to peruse the offers of the day.

Legal dressing down

Given this somewhat unfair way of luring shoppers into their stores, Lidl has now been given a legal rap over the knuckles. A court in the southern city of Stuttgart has ruled that the massive discounter has to increase its stock levels.

Lidl was accused by a competition watchdog of enticing shoppers through its doors under false pretences. The court referred to a case of Lidl running a large-scale advertisement for a computer and keyboard, which implied that stocks were ample. In actual fact, on the day the promotional announcement appeared in the paper, the products in question were sold out by nine in the morning.

Einkaufswagen im Supermarkt
Not only toilet paper and bananas are for daily useImage: Bilderbox

The court says the discounter broke an existing law under which shops have to store enough "products for daily use" to keep customers supplied for two days. Computers fall under that category.

Missing the loophole

Retailers can slip through the loopholes in the law without too much difficulty if they can prove either that they had to sell the product in question in a shorter period of time than generally required by the law, or if they can show that there was an unexpected interest in what they were selling.

But Lidl did neither. In fact, the discount supermarket argued that customers would not expect to find great stocks of such cheap products, but would likely know that they would sell out very quickly.

Bahntickets bei Lidl
Train tickets were a popular sellImage: dpa - Bildfunk

But the court countered that "customers do not expect to have to stand in a queue before the store opens in order to be one of the lucky few people to buy the product."

The competition watchdog has also brought charges against Lidl for selling train tickets in the same vein. Stores in Germany recently sold more than a million train tickets at cheap rate prices. But, with each branch selling an average of between just 150 - 250 tickets, they too were sold out in record time.

The trial date has not yet been set.

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