Loblaw, George Weston under fire for bread price-fixing scheme response

Loblaw Companies Ltd.’s attempt to mitigate potential damage from an investigation into an alleged industry-wide bread price-fixing scheme through its admission of guilt and gift card offering has been met with backlash from skeptical consumers and indignant competitors alike.

Loblaw and its parent company George Weston Ltd. revealed Tuesday they alerted the Competition Bureau after discovering a 14-year-long bread price-fixing arrangement. As a gesture of good will, Loblaw is offering customers a $25 gift card that can be used at its grocery stores across Canada.

“This conduct should never have happened,” CEO Galen G. Weston said Tuesday.

“The gift card is a direct acknowledgment of that to our customers. We hope that they’ll see it as a meaningful amount that demonstrates our commitment to keeping their trust and confidence.”

However, some early visitors to the sign-up page have expressed concern that the bare bones site looks like a phishing attempt by savvy scammers.

The site, which went live Tuesday, did not initially include text about user privacy and the company’s use of the email addresses it collects. It has since been updated “to make the limited use of the email addresses more explicit to users,” spokesman Kevin Groh told The Canadian Press on Thursday.

The addition came after several visitors expressed concern on social media over details — or lack thereof — available on the site.

The site displays a logo that simply says “Loblaw” rather than the company’s full name typically pictured in its logo. It has a banner photo of a piece of bread and several sentences of text with instructions on when registration will open. The page lacks any links or a copyright symbol that’s found on many other sites affiliated with the company.

“It just looks like a WordPress site that in theory anyone could have done,” Cameron Kennedy of Toronto told The Canadian Press.

It’s likely Loblaw was in a rush to make the site available to the public, said Hasan Cavusoglu, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business in Vancouver.

It would be better if it had a design similar to the company’s other sites, a URL connected to the company’s main website, and if the company’s main site linked to the gift card one, he said.

Kennedy remains concerned that scammers will try to purchase similar domains and could easily create knock-off versions to trick some unsuspecting consumers into first divulging their email addresses and then more sensitive things, like their credit card information, in a follow-up confirmation email.

It’s a definite possibility someone might attempt that, said Cavusoglu.

But Loblaw’s Groh said the company is taking proactive steps to prevent that, such as acquiring similar URLs and re-directing them to the correct site.

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