Many major supermarkets are misleading customers with discounts and special offers that are more expensive than the normal everyday prices.
A survey by the consumer organisation Which? looked at 450 products on offer at major UK retailers.
It found multibuys that cost you more despite the alleged offer, dubious discounts that allude to a price that isn’t the most recent and not-so-special offers in which items are sold at their ‘special’ price for most of the year.
Among the dodgy deals that the consumer champion found, Iceland offered a misleading multibuy, with customers enticed by Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut available at ‘2 for £4’ (£2 each). While this may have appeared to be a good deal on the surface, Which? found that the price was just £1.49 each a week earlier – £0.51 less per item.
Asda labelled Wall’s Carte D’Or Strawberry Ice Cream (1L) ‘was £3.50 now £2’. However, this product was sold at £2 for more of the year than £3.50, with the ‘special offer’ on show for 12 weeks.
Which? also found examples of dodgy discounts that weren’t really discounts at all. For example, Cathedral City Mature Cheddar Cheese (350g) was available from Morrisons, promoted ‘was £3.50 now £2’ during the week of 17th September 2018. However, the product was available for £2 the week before.
Following Which?’s super-complaint on misleading pricing practices in 2015, the government rolled out new guidance through the Chartered Trading Standards Institute to make sure that retailers’ pricing practices comply with consumer law.
The rules state that retailers must ensure the information they present to consumers is fair and does not waste time or cause annoyance, disappointment or regret. Neither should it cause a consumer to overspend or buy a product that is inappropriate for them.
However, this latest investigation appears to reveal that many UK supermarkets continue to flout the rules by offering deals that don’t necessarily constitute a legitimate saving. While Which? continues to urge shoppers to be vigilant of dodgy deals when shopping in supermarkets, the consumer champion is demanding that supermarkets comply with government guidelines and provide shoppers with clearer pricing.
Which? is now reporting its findings to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
Natalie Hitchins, Which? Head of Home Products and Services said: “Four years on from our super-complaint on misleading pricing practices, many of the big supermarkets are clearly still in the wrong, with numerous examples of dodgy discounts and never-ending offers.
“These retailers must stop tricking shoppers with deceptive deals and spurious special offers – if not, the CMA must intervene to ensure that pricing guidelines are followed.”
Responses from the supermarkets
- Iceland responded to explain that it will review its promotional calendar, incorporating the findings by Which?.
- Asda disagreed with the suggestion that their offers are misleading.
- The other supermarkets did not respond.
Which? advice for spotting misleading discounts
- Stay vigilant when shopping in supermarkets as misleading pricing tactics are clearly still being used.
- Don’t be enticed by a ‘special offer’ that might turn out to be a dud.
- Don’t feel pressured by a time-limited offer as the reduced price may come back sooner than expected.
- For more information on the new guidance for retailers following the Which? super-complaint, click here.
The investigation methods
- Which? used pricing data from May 2018 to June 2019, provided by MySupermarket, for 459 popular branded and supermarket own-brand products at seven of the UK’s biggest supermarkets: Asda, Iceland, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.
- Which? submitted a super-complaint to the Competition and Markets Authority about misleading supermarket pricing practices on 21 April 2015. More details on the super-complaint can be found here.