Australia’s competition watchdog is taking tech giant Dell to court over allegedly misleading discounts listed online when offering an add-on monitor.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has instituted Federal Court proceedings against Dell Australia for allegedly making false or misleading representations about the listed ‘strikethrough’ prices of monitors which consumers could add on to their purchase of a Dell computer.

When a consumer selected to buy a desktop, laptop or notebook on Dell’s website, they were offered the option of adding on a monitor during the check-out process. During this process, the monitor was typically shown with a significantly higher strikethrough price than what they were actually being sold for separately.

ACCC Commissioner Liza Carver said the watchdog is concerned that consumers may have purchased these monitors due to the falsely listed discounts when they otherwise wouldn’t have, or when they could have gotten them for cheaper elsewhere on the website.

“We alleged that Dell Australia made false, misleading or deceptive statements on its website to entice consumers to add on monitors to the purchase of a computer by displaying false or misleading discounts,” Carver said.

“Cases involving allegations of misleading ‘was / now’ pricing by large retailers of consumer goods are a priority for the ACCC. Businesses should be well aware of their legal requirements and should have effective compliance programs in place to prevent this type of consumer harm.”

From at least August 2019 to 16 December last year, the ACCC alleges that Dell made false or misleading representations on its website about the potential savings being applied to monitors.

The watchdog is alleging the strikethrough prices listed for the monitors, showing the discount applied to the actual price, did not match with any actual price of the monitors being sold by Dell.

This had the effect of overstating the discount being applied to the monitor, the ACCC said.

The ACCC also claimed that the price of the monitor being offered as a “discount” add-on was actually more expensive than if the consumer just purchased it by itself.

During the checkout process, the Dell website typically made statements such as “total savings”, “includes x percent off” and “get the best price for popular accessories when purchased with this product”, in relation to the add-on monitor.

The period that the case relates to was at a time when many Australians were looking to buy tech equipment to assist with the switch to working from home, Carver said.

“These proceedings are also significant because the alleged misleading conduct related to the online marketing of computers and monitors at a time when many families were in COVID lockdown,” she said.

“We know that many consumers turned to online purchases to buy equipment for working and schooling from home. While the total number of misled consumers is known, we believe many thousands of consumers were sold an add-on monitor which was advertised with a representation that an inflated discount applied.”

The ACCC is seeking penalties, declarations, consumer redress, costs and other orders against Dell.

In a statement provided to Reuters, Dell Australia said the issue in question impacted about 2,100 customers and was due to an error in its pricing processes.

This issue led to the incorrect information being displayed about the pricing and savings associated with the add-on monitors, Dell said.

The company said it is actively working to update its systems to prevent the same error happening again.

Last month the ACCC took Fitbit to court, claiming the wearables devices company misled Australian consumers. According to the competition watchdog, Fitbit owners were told they could only return a faulty item within 45 days of it being purchased, in contravention of Australian Consumer Law.