Special offer? Don’t be misled by multibuys

by , Senior Home Researcher Consumer Rights 19 November 2012
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We looked at 115 products, comparing 300,000 prices, and found that multibuy special offers aren’t always as good a deal as they seem. Are they just a supermarket tactic to sell you more than you need?

Buy one get one free crossed out

We looked at online shopping promotions at Asda, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose. We found that some multibuys wouldn’t save you any money at all. And overall, there often wasn’t a lot of difference between the multibuy and standard prices.

We also found a range of multibuys that were just plain daft. To give you one example, we found a pack of four tins of Heinz soup for £2.99 next to individual tins on multibuy for 80p each or four tins for £3.

You’re not sold on multibuys

Last time we wrote about multibuys here on Which? Conversation, you had strong views on the subject. Edward Crooks has been put off multibuys for life:

‘I used to buy a particular brand of paté from a well-known supermarket. It went missing from the shelves for about a week. When I saw it next the price had jumped from 59p to 85p for the same pack. Several weeks later it was on offer(!) at two packs for £1.50. I have never even looked at a multi offer again.’

Craig even thinks multibuys should be banned:

‘BOGOFs and multibuys should be curtailed or outright banned (as in other countries) because they are so wasteful, and unfair (and make my brain hurt when I try to work them out!).’

And it’s a debate that won’t be going away anytime soon. We’ve found that multibuys could be on the increase; the 115 products we looked at were on offer for a greater amount of time in the first half of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011.

Multibuys can cause multi-headaches

Not all the examples were straightforward price rises, but we still felt they could be misleading. Sometimes supermarkets yo-yo between multibuys and discounts. This means that a discounted product increases in price as it goes into a multibuy offer and is then discounted when the multibuy offer has finished.

In Asda, we found that Goodfella’s Deep Pan Baked Pepperoni Pizza more than doubled in price when it was on multibuy. The pizza’s original price was generally £1. On offer, its price increased to £2.68/£2.50 for one or £4.50 for two.

But this means that if you always take ‘advantage’ of the offer (multibuy or discount), the product nearly always costs the same. Some of the products we looked at did this for most of the year, rendering the ‘normal’ price pretty redundant. Over 365 days, Tesco and Sainsbury’s sold Nestle Munch Bunch Yogurt (4x100g) for either £1 on discount or two-for-£2 on multibuy. Whether you buy the product ‘on offer’ or not, the yogurts still cost around £1 a pack.

Do you believe that multibuys are worth stocking up on, or are you fed up of the sight of them?

16 comments

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Gigi

Special Offers at Christmas time.
I have been pretty well organised this year and have most of my Christmas presents sorted but what it has enabled me to do, is visit more shops and compare offers and I have found the best chocolate offers this year are to be found in Marks and Spencer! they are doing a huge box of milk chocolates at half price £5.00. These are perfect for family sharing or to give a friend or good neighbour. Debenhams are offering boxes reduced from £25 to £12 whilst BHS are offering boxes at £15 and Tesco’s are the next best offer with their Continential Selection at £10 reduced by £5.

For Green & Black’s organic chocolate the best offer at the present time is Waitrose at £3.66 for a pack of 12 chocolate bars. tesco’s are selling at £4.50 and Debenham’s at £5. The cost of christmas puddings and christmas cakes varies from shop to shop but Marks and Spencer have the best offers on currently.

Smellies – bath/shower hand/foot creams – BHS has some lovely offers but for quality and a brand name – you can’t beat Debenhams Betty Jackson Black’s great great at fabulous prices!

Hi Gigi, thanks for your comment – glad to hear you’re finding lots of bargains for Christmas. However, this Convo is about multibuy offers, where you get a discount for buying more than one of a particular product. Have you spotted any rubbish multibuy offers?

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william

Ah, multi-buys, the only reason I miss not having a mobile phone. I use Tesco and they’re offers are to be taken with a pinch of salt, not only are the offers quite often not that special, but quite often the price is hiked from the week before and the product now on “offer” at a price the same or worse than the week before.

Other people find it amazing just how bad Tesco can be too, enjoy : https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tesco-Offer-Fail/109092949114632?fref=ts

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wavechange

A friend gave me a 150g bag of Red Sky crisps, from Waitrose. The original price was £1.99, with £3 off if you bought 3 packs. They were marked down to £1.09 on the ‘Best before’ date, so three packs cost 27p. It’s not the first time and very occasionally the discount means that you are paid to take away heavily discounted food that is on offer.

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william

One thing that annoys me about misleading multibuy offers, like custard tarts pack of 2 for £1.08 or buy 2 for £2.50 ( see I told you a I miss having a mobile phone). When I pointed this out to the customer services desk, their attitude was appalling. Firstly there’s the we stock around 40k products ( do I care, no) you should expect the odd mistake, followed up by, all prices are set by head office so there’s nothing we can do.

Well, I’m sorry that’s just lame. Assuming around half of all Tesco stores stock the product and each store only employs 1 person to put the prices on the shelves and stock/restock the shelves you’re looking at around 1500 employees who could/should have spotted the issue before I did. And does it not occur to Customer DisServices that maybe they could ring/email Head Office and point it out for me, rather than let me go home and notify head office myself. Makes me think they do this sort of thing deliberately to con the customers.

Three days later the offer was buy 2 for £1.50. I wonder how many people brought it and paid £2.50.

I guess tricks like this have been around for thousands of years as even the Romans had a saying for it, “caveat emptor” , “buyer beware” :)

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Kelly

I took a photo when shopping in sainsburys of their great 2 for £5 deal on chicken. If you bought them individually they were £2.50. What a bargain. I rarely get multibuys now as it just increases my shopping bill, packs of sausages £2.59 or 2 packs for £5.

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Rod

I really dislike multi-buys even when the multiple purchase is cheaper than single ones – mainly because it is obvious that the single item is overpriced in the first place. I’ve got to the point that I will happily not buy an item at all rather than play along with this silly game.

I live in Scotland and the Scottish Government banned multi-buy offers on alcohol last year. I haven’t seen any evidence that this has pushed up the price of alcoholic drinks. Whereas the supermarkets used to have crazy offers like “1 bottle of wine for £5.99 or 3 for £10” the same bottles are now sold at £3.33 each. The only difference to the customer is that they can buy what they want rather than be forced into making unnecessary purchases of minimal quality table wine.

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Christine

The Scottish Government have got it RIGHT! How I wish this would come into force nationwide and in general and not just on alcohol.

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Malcolm R

We shop a lot for food at M&S and they usually have a variety of sensible multi buy offers. Their prices seem stable so offers are easy to assess and generally worthwhile – providing you want 8 apples when you would have bought 4. Just exercise common sense. Staples- like bread, cheese – puddings and main foods 2 for less than 2×1, with a variety of choice, all seem genuine deals. Foods on deals that freeze make sense as well.

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Ian H

Multibuys are indeed often little better than obsfucation when it comes to working out the true price of food items – especially fruit and veg. If the Consumers Association were to publish a monthly index of typical food prices per kilo it would do us all an immense favour. The big supermarkets seem to have a ongoing game plan the intention of which is to disconnect the consumer from using price per kilo as the standard comparison method. The ability to make accurate food price comparisons – easily – would be a true consumer service that would increase the profile and prestige of the Consumers Association.

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Troy Tempest

One thing I have come across a number of times recently is multi-buy offers that cover a product range, but which excludes one or two of the range without telling you this on the advert. Two examples that I have come across recently in Sainsburys are:

1. Heinz Soup. The “big advert” said something along the lines of: “4 for £3 on Heinz traditional soups 440ml.” There was no small print on this advert stating any exclusions. Therefore, the natural assumption is that all Hienz 440ml traditional soups are in the offer. However, not all of them are. This is only apparent by looking at the individual pricing labels next to the individual soups.

A second example was with Dettol Wipes. The large main advert said something like “2 packs for £3 on dettol wipes (36 pack)” Again no small print to indicate any exclusions. There are 3 or 4 slightly different types of Dettol wipes (in packs of 36) next to each other on the shelves. Therefore, once again the assumption is that the offer applies to all types. However, the offer excluded one particular type, and this exclusion was not stated on the main advert.

I would like to know if this is breech of advertising legistation?; i.e. if there is an advertisement that tells you a something is a certain price, and there is no small print on that advert to tell you otherwise, isn’t that the price they have to charge? You can’t get away with then having another advert somewhere else that tells you a different price?

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william

Has anyone else notice that larger packets/boxes are being re-branded so as not to imply they are better value ?

I’ve just had an email from Kellogg’s confirming that thy are replacing/ have replaced such wording across all products.

I cheekily rang them back asking why they would need to do that, knowing it is probably the supermarkets who have requested this change, but Kellogg’s declined to answer that question.

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Terry

I discovered an interesting multibuy in M&S today. 2 x 170g packets of Percy Pigs are £2.50 but you can get one 340g packet for £2.45. Then again going through the till the large bag of Percys was charged at £2.65 and I didn’t realise until I got home. I called the store and they said the shelf was correct and I had been overcharged, so as long as I keep the receipt they will refund the difference next time I’m in.

Any quibbles from them and I have a photo on my phone because a friend didn’t believe that M&S would make a multibuy more expensive than the larger packet!

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william

Currently Tesco Fairtrade tea pack of 80 91p , special offer buy 2 for £3.00 ( see https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tesco-Offer-Fail/109092949114632 for others).

I’m glad I emailed the CEO about their pricing mistakes, just sad to see they’ve not taken any notice

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Pete

Body Shop have a multibuy discount offer in some stores. Buy 3 items get 35% discount, buy 4 items get 40% discount. However it seems that on some occasions , although it dose not say not in conjunction with other offers, twin packs are classed as 2 items at the original full price resulting in a much lower saving than could reasonably be anticipated.

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Pensioner

Multibuys and bogofs are downright unfair. Why do I have to pay more for something just because I only need or want one? For example, today, 26 May, Tesco fresh beans were £2 a packet or 3 packets for £4! I have to pay £2 a packet but if I had a family who can eat 3 packets I would only pay £1.33 a packet. Supermarkets are not treating their customers fairly or equally.

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