Sketchy advertising leaves Skechers owing $40m

Popular US shoe manufacturer ordered to refund its customers millions of dollars for making deceptive claims.

    A shoe manufacturer in the US, known as Skechers, has been forced to pay more than $40m for false advertising.

    The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has ruled the company made unfounded claims, promising consumers, its popular "Shape-ups" shoes would help them lose weight. 

    The adverts for "Shape-ups" promised a body that was more toned and svelte, just by wearing the company’s shoes. Several Hollywood celebrities and US athletes endorsed the trendy shoe.

    Those endorsements, including a popular 2011 Super Bowl television commercial, featuring reality TV star, Kim Kardashian, prompted thousands in the US to buy the footwear. 

    An online promotional video for "Shape-ups" found on the Internet, and also on a DVD included inside every shoebox, claimed the shoes helped by, "improving circulation, burning calories and losing weight."  

    How do I know this? I own two pairs of the shoes. 

    The FTC on Wednesday ruled that Skechers deliberately deceived those, who, like myself, purchased the footwear. 

    Skechers has been ordered to refund $40m to its customers. 

    David Vladeck, director of consumer protection for the FTC, said his, "principal goal is getting cash back in the pockets of consumers". 

    Skechers famous curved-sole shoes sell for about a $100 a pair.

    The company is a market leader in what is known as America's footwear "toning" industry. Still, despite that massive market share that spawned numerous manufacturers to create copy-cat versions of the shoe, the FTC says "Shape-ups" didn't deliver the results buyers were promised. 

    At a news conference in Washington, Larissa Bungo, assistant regional director of the FTC's Midwest region, told reporters: "Our message for any advertiser in any industry including the toning industry is that we expect advertisers to have adequate substantiation for any claims that it makes." 

    Skechers denies it deliberately misled its customers. It says it only settled the federal regulator's case because of rising legal costs.

    Regardless of the company's claims of innocence, the FTC has warned Skechers that in future it will need real scientific evidence before it can make any health guarantee about one of its products. 

    I'm not sure I will file a claim to Skechers to recoup my losses. It's true I never lost any weight by wearing either pair of my "Shape-ups".  

    In fact, I'm not sure I expected to. Instead, I was simply trying to maximise the activity I already incorporate into my day, like walking to the subway to go to work.  

    To be honest, though, I think I was secretly hoping my "Shape-ups" would surprise me. I, like millions of consumers, hoped Skechers might be the magic tool I need to lose the weight that has crept up on me, incrementally, after having each of my three children.  

    I was wrong, and I do admit to feeling a little foolish after filing this story for Al Jazeera about the Skechers settlement and its claims.

    I've always known most fitness experts agree when it comes to weight loss, eating less and exercising more is the only solution. No matter what any company promises, there are no shortcuts. 

    Still, I guess I hoped that this time those fitness experts were wrong. Today reminded me that when it comes to spending money, the old adage my mother taught me as a young girl still holds true - "let the buyer beware".



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