Consumer watchdog agency Truth In Advertising (TINA) has filed a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Savage X Fenty, the lingerie line owned by Rihanna, and its parent company, TechStyle. TINA has also sent the complaint to the Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s Office in the state of California.

The complaint centers on Savage X Fenty's Xtra VIP membership model, which TINA alleges is engaging in deceptive marketing practices that are outlawed under the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA). Here are the details of the complaint.

First, let's look at the benefits and terms of the Xtra VIP membership.

For repeat Savage X Fenty customers, the Xtra VIP membership could be a good deal. Customers are charged $49.95 on the 6th of each month; that charge is then returned to the account in the form of $49.95 in store credit that does not expire.

Xtra VIP customers also receive 25% off all full-priced items, exclusive apparel, free exchanges, and first access to new collection launches.

There are reports of issues with canceling the membership.

"Unfortunately, Savage X Fenty’s diverse and inclusive marketing campaign is being used to lure unsuspecting consumers into unwanted negative-option offers that they are then having difficulty canceling," said TINA.org Executive Director Bonnie Patten in a release. 

They cited a Better Business Bureau complaint from a consumer, who wrote that "When I called to cancel my account and get a refund, the customer service rep that I spoke with was unprofessional and refused to give me a refund...She kept saying I can just use the credit that I have and then call back to cancel or keep my membership and then set a reminder on my mobile phone to cancel it." 

TINA is taking aim at the Xtra VIP membership marketing.

TINA investigated the Xtra VIP marketing, and found that some of its claims may be deceptive. According to the TINA report, Savage X Fenty attracts customers to its membership by prominently displaying product prices that are only available to Xtra VIP members — such as this bra, which is advertised with a retail price of $22. But in faint gray text, the actual retail price for nonmembers is listed as $56.

In order to pay $22, the customer would need to sign up for the membership. And that $22 is only applicable for first-time VIP orders.

TINA also notes discrepancies in pricing at the point of sale.

Most pressingly, TINA's investigation found that the Xtra VIP membership price is added into costumers' cart by default, with no price listed — even though the monthly charge is $49.95. Retail prices are also pre-entered into the cart as though the costumer would be paying the VIP prices, whether they are members or not.

Revelist verified this pricing discrepancy.

Savage X Fenty May Be Going To Court Over Its VIP Membership
photo: Revelist

While TINA included screenshots of their own investigation, Revelist attempted to independently verify TINA's allegations. 

Indeed, there are issues with the cart, as seen above. There is no price given for the membership, which was added to the cart by default. The Lacy Not Racy Brazilian is listed as $10 in the cart, while its product page lists it at $25 for non-VIP customers — which is ostensibly how Revelist's hypothetical purchase would go. 

In order to actually purchase the item without signing up for the membership, the customer needs to click on the tiny X next to the membership, though this is not explicitly stated anywhere.

The cart also confusingly approves the order for free shipping, even though at the bottom, it states that free shipping is offered for orders over $49.

Here's the actual price of the item.

Savage X Fenty May Be Going To Court Over Its VIP Membership
photo: Revelist

I logged into my own personal Savage X Fenty non-VIP account to see the actual cost of the item. As you can see, once logged into a non-VIP account, the item price reverts to the full retail price listed in light gray text on the underwear product page. There is also no free shipping: A $4.95 shipping charge is added, along with $1.75 in New York state sales tax.

In other words, a customer would only pay $10 if they were shopping as a first-time Xtra VIP member — although the cart does not make this obvious or corrects this discrepancy until the last stage of point of sale.

Could Savage X Fenty be headed to court?

It's very possible that Savage X Fenty and TechStyle could go to court. TINA previously filed a complaint against Adore Me, whose subscription service operates similarly to the Xtra VIP membership. In 2018, the FTC cracked down on Adore Me, reported CNBC, and was ordered to pay a $1.3 million settlement to its customers.

Revelist has reached out to Savage X Fenty and TechStyle for comment.