/ Food & Drink, Shopping

We’re writing to supermarkets about misleading pricing tactics

Put an end to misleading pricing

A couple of weeks ago we reported on Convo the result of an inquiry into misleading and unclear pricing in supermarkets. We’d now like to hear from the supermarkets what they’ll do to tackle these problems.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigated after we made a super-complaint on misleading pricing tactics.

Supermarkets now face impending regulation changes, angry customers and potential enforcement action.

Now that the CMA has published its concerns, the supermarkets must tackle the problem head on.

After giving them time to digest the investigation’s findings, we’ve written to the people at the top – the supermarket CEOs – encouraging them to tell us what they will be doing to clean up their act.

We want them to support measures to strengthen the rules on what qualifies as a special offer. Measures that would make special offers more meaningful for you, create a level playing field and drive genuine competition.

This is a clear opportunity for supermarkets to improve their image and win back your trust – and we want them to take it.

The problem that won’t go away

We showed the CMA examples of dodgy multi-buys, shrinking products and exaggerated discounts uncovered over a seven -year period. Many of the examples we gave were from Convo readers.

The CMA found hundreds of potentially misleading prices on the shelves of five supermarkets. It concluded that unit pricing needs to be clearer so shoppers can use it effectively to compare similar products.

And it was concerned too about ‘was/now’ offers where discount prices were used for longer than the original price.

We’ve now called on the supermarkets CEOs to find solutions to dodgy offers and to show they really do understand your frustrations as customers.

With more than 165,000 people now backing our campaign and the CMA considering enforcement action, it’s time for the supermarkets to tell customers what they will do to solve this problem. Let’s hear their plan.

Nigel Johnson says:
31 July 2015

It’s not just misleading pricing tactics, it is also the shrinking product within the packaging.

Yes absolutely agree, we often notice that packets and tins are less full despite the big box or packet in which the contents are packaged, thus implying there is more inside than is the case.

This is why the UNIT PRICE – often price per 100g – is shown on the shelf label. This makes it easy to see which product is cheapest, whatever tricks are played with shrinking packet sizes.

Of course there are problems with unit price, such as supermarkets not showing it on BOGOF offers, but hopefully the CMA report will lead to prompt action.

Liz says:
1 August 2015

Unit pricing isn’t always standard. It can be price per 100 gms, price per kilo or price per unit. and I have seen a unit price that didn’t correspond to the actual price. Surely some of these tricks must already be illegal.

Liz, CMA, in their report, say they are specifically looking at unit pricing to ensure it is applied more clearly.

Spot on Liz – I would have thought so too! And Borderline practices seem to be par for the course. I have noticed several specials offers which cost more than say two of the same product of a lesser size.

Michelle says:
3 August 2015

I use the unit price too, but not everybody can. People with their kids or people with limited time, people who maybe don’t have the necessary maths skills or older people or people with disabilities (not seeing too well or being able to bend down to check the tiny unit price guide) can’t always use this.

Lev says:
3 August 2015

True “Unit pricing isn’t always standard” and in the produce section is all clear, especially when items are sold in packets ie. tomatoes that do not give breakdown of pricing and the mix between kilo and pound hasn’t changed.

Neelam Shah says:
31 July 2015

Supermarkets should never ever mislead prices on products, its unfair and unjust to over price products and misuses the consumers/customers trust.
Already things are very expensive and if supermarkets cant justify their prices they are engaging in criminal fraudulent activity where they are unfairly taking more profit from customers than they should be.

trevor says:
3 August 2015

I agree with you Neelam,
but they do it because the so called competition commission allows them to.
and when called to account they direct customers to the Competition commission,
who will likely say in return that this is all above board and fair.
and the only time they will accept they have got it wrong is when customers decide to spend their money elsewhere
and then the ones that are well known for overcharging customers
will likely complain.

Frances Jones says:
31 July 2015

It’s the attitude of the supermarkets that bugs me. You can complain till the cows come home and get ignored. Well I’m voting with my feet now and shopping local. I’ve saved a fortune actually. No temptations to buy their crap food. I wish everyone would take a stand against this brainwashing [they think] game they play.

Anonymous says:
1 August 2015

The problem is now, we have little store in the village and they are all run by the big stores, gone are all the privately owned shops.
Who gets all the money middle to top management, they pay a pitance for the people on the shop floor, just like every big business.
I have to go getting so cross.

trevor says:
3 August 2015

I agree wholeheartedly Frances
but this sort of thing is standard.
for example I found out that just because I don’t pay for my internet access by direct debit,
the bank I use charges this particular internet provider
and they then charge me.
I can’t understand why banks are allowed to charge internet service providers for receiving customer payments that are not by direct debit?
I think the whole thing is so unfair and is so like the supermarkets who also “penny pinch” their customers
in every way possible.
there is little difference between the “pay by direct debit and avoid so called service charges”
and the supermarkets buy two for £2.50 thing.
its all about taking as much money out of our pockets as they can
while trying to out do each other in terms of competition.
and the people to blame for that is the so called competition commission.
we can’t win Frances
no matter how hard we try.

Jane, the CMA report agreed that there were problems that needed addressing and were making recommendations to amend the law and also recommendations to the Dept for Business Innovation and Skills. Are you working in conjunction with the CMA?

A major problem as I see it is that when individuals spot a misleading offer they have no way of getting it corrected other than at the store. I would like Which? push for a better-funded Trading Standards organisation to which we could report trading misdemeanors locally and expect to get action taken – not just in supermarkets but any traders. Councils have largely removed this service for individuals to the detriment of consumers. Perhaps you would organise a Campaign 🙂 that could solve a lot of consumer problems?

Mike says:
31 July 2015

Wholly agree Malcolm. Just one problem, trading standards likely have a cosy relationship with the council so expecting to see ‘action’ is most unlikely. Recently the council in Belfast were hauled over the proverbial coals in response to an enquiry re the ‘smoking police.’ It seems 6 persons were employed at £18,000 p.a. to visit pubs, clubs etc. and over the space of 18 months one prosecution was forthcoming. This was a good example of public money being squandered. Supermarkets don’t care as any fines imposed are generally in the hundreds of pounds rather than tens of thousands.

Mo56 says:
1 August 2015

Excelent coment

Pete says:
31 July 2015

If they spent as much time trying to give us a real deal as they do trying to find ways to rip us off them supermarkets would be a better place. Its a very bad habit every one has theses days all they can think of is rip them off. How can we devise another way to get them to buy our crap. Its a culture we have in GB now and has been allowed to spread like a disease. Its totally dishonest trading so why is the law on their side????

Frances Jones says:
31 July 2015

I agree with you Pete. They are as good as thieves stealing from the public. I don’t know how they sleep at night. Selling cheap chocolate and expensive fruit and veg to people with not very much money ( even if they’re working) to feed their children. I really hope they all go to the wall. Town centres are decimated by councils giving licences to these chains in return for a play park or some silly community “asset”. Britain needs to get a grip!! You will see I’m an angry woman about this.

John Glover says:
31 July 2015

Tesco have recently been cutting down on the items they sell. I used to buy their own brand part bakes. They now don’t sell the everyday packs that used to be 45p because they said they did not sell. But guess what. The more dearer pack are still there. If they are not selling why are they still there. Why did they not remove the dearer pack and keep they cheapest. We all know the answer to this don’t we.

Mo56 says:
1 August 2015

They remove the cheaper pack rebrand it and charge more and at the same time pay less for buying it then the CEO and his mates get a big fat yacht

trevor says:
3 August 2015

Totally agree with you Pete.
its deffo part of British culture to manipulate and exploit the customers.
the competition commission have much to answer for
in allowing this to become the norm.

Pete Nicholls says:
31 July 2015

I mainly shop at Aldi for everything or Lidl… I use to shop at Morrisons, but got sick and tired of over inflated prices and misleading ( I say intentional ) price stickers put in the wrong place to make you buy…then when you got to the till it was double the amount!!!. I don’t like being taken for a Mug!…

trevor says:
3 August 2015

your not alone Pete!!!
I feel as fed up as you mate.
but I know that this is a situation in which the supermarkets are given freedom to manipulate the customers whoever they chose.
little or no consideration is given to the customers.
and I reckon that pigs will fly before this situation changes.
because the country we live is is motivated by greed and nothing but that.

Brian Spiller says:
31 July 2015

Tesco has John Smiths bitter on offer when you buy 2 x 12 cans but if you buy a case of 18 of the same beer NOT on offer it is a LOT cheaper!
Has been for some time too!

Elizabeth Ormerod says:
31 July 2015

Supermarkets and their suppliers should also be required to pay a decent amount to dairy farmers. They are putting dairy farms out of business every week.
Consumers don’t want imported milk – we want home produced milk from cows cared for to a high standard.

Dave Dale says:
3 August 2015

Agree entirely.
Fixed minimum Retail pricing should be re-introduced for essential products, produced by British Farmers and producers, to make costs and prices consistent.
This free for all simply makes creative accounting attractive and temporary pricing free rein, to the detriment of the consumers and producers.
I would suggest that it would also limit Supermarkets from deceptive and creative pricing and allow smaller local business’s to survive and prosper.
Without the large overheads (especially of senior staff) of the Supermarkets, local shops and producers could provide jobs for local people, local stores and freeing up areas/premises for Farm shops and other food producers. Small scale and cottage industries could flourish, and provide a real alternative.

Dave, the problem with this is what happens in the EU – subsidies for example for the French small farms, inefficient and wasteful, and huge subsidies for EU farmers not to grow stuff in the name of conservation. I sympathise with dairy farmers but it is a business driven by technology to minimise cost and maximise yield – milking robots, computed protein feed ration, minimal labour. And traders will source products wherever they are cheapest. A reduction in the price of milk products internationally apparently has not helped. So not simple, and consumers seem to whinge when the price of anything goes up.
As an aside it seems a farmers’ cooperative – First Milk – has 1300 dairy farmers many, according to PEYE, paid down to 16p a litre whereas the top 10% of dairy farmers were getting 32p.

trevor says:
3 August 2015

the supermarkets don’t care about the dairy farmers Elizabeth.
its all about taking as much for themselves and sharing little or nothing with others.
and its seems to me that this situation was created by the competition commission?
they have consistently failed to accept that their ideas don’t work.
what we need is a system in which everyone get’s their “fair share” greed cannot be justified
and yet to this day the people in charge continue to overlook these issues.
and why?
because they know that if they address it the system will start to fall apart.
because the supermarkets want it all their way
and don’t consider the needs of other people who also need to make a decent living.

Lev says:
3 August 2015

Yes & it looks that any discounts passed to customers is actually at the expenses of the producers, whether small, larger farmers or any producers/companies for the matter, (not the supermarkets who by the way take the whole credit). The supermarkets job is to negotiate prices whether with good or probably bad manners.

Mike says:
31 July 2015

I am sick of Rip off Britain. No matter where you shop or for what item we are ripped off. This does not happen in the US where folks complain about price, product, service and anything else that might appear as short selling. It seems to me in this country folks are prepared to loose money to unscrupulous traders rather than raise a fuss. Well, if you have money to waste go ahead, but don’t expect to see improvements. One example, Tesco fuel save. Diesel 115.9 per litre. Go filling station 110.9. To better the go price you’d need to spend a minimum of £150 at Tesco. Better you spent your £150 at Lidl / Aldi and fuelled up at Go!

Pete Nicholls says:
1 August 2015

You got it in the first sentence mike, Rip Off Britain…and we have been ripped off for years. To say we are in the EU…we always pay more money for goods and food than other EU countries! so what’s the point in being in the EU?

trevor says:
3 August 2015

I agree Mike,
the problem is we the public should have started complaining much earlier
but we left it too late.
which is why supermarkets have been able to do what they do down to this very day.
and I doubt very much that things will change.
I mean consider the cost of buying a house these days.
its beyond the reach of most people.
the estate agents won’t back down and lower their prices
because they have too much to lose in terms of profit.
they don’t give a monkeys for the working class
its all about catering to the wealthy
because they can afford to pay more.
and once again the governments and all the regulators have done little or nothing to re balance the entire set up.
and its like cause it makes economic sense to them to allow this unbalanced situation to continue.
we have sleepwalked into this Mike.

IF WHICH WASN’T A MONOPOLY and got their facts right I would support it. It is up to customers to seek out the real deal, I am not aware any of these stores are registered charities, and the complexity of making up deals would baffle most people at which who’s magazines are overpriced to the extreme and give very little clues as to what is best to buy or value for money. It amuses me in stores at some offers but they are all trying to stay ahead of the competition and isn’t that the principle of free trade and democracy

trevor says:
3 August 2015

you may be right in principle,
but as you can see
few people support your argument,
and for good reason.
you showed little compassion for the many that are struggling to survive in a set up which is leaning towards the wealthy
while ignoring the working class and the poor.

Jaggy Obey says:
31 July 2015

It’s also the packaging. I prefer to buy my fruit and veg without it and refuse to buy four to five plastic boxes of cherries when I’d buy a full bag. I would have to pay for the packaging that I don’t want.

bob s says:
31 July 2015

they think we are all stupid and dont notice their poor attempt to fool us, wel the bad news is we all have a choice.

Where we live, we only have one supermarket available, the Co-op, so we can’t shop round any of the others to compare prices and value for money. We love where we live and wouldn’t want to move, but some competition wouldn’t do any harm.

Frances Jones says:
2 August 2015

Don’t ask for competition it’ll open a can of worms. The co-op is not perfect and sometimes a wee bit dearer but I think it’s a lot fairer. If you get the “big guns” into your town they’ll ruin it. All small shops will close. This has happened in our village. So please don’t ask for competition. You will regret it.

Ah, competition that thing that’s supposed to give the consumer a better deal.

So how exactly is competition helping us in the energy, broadband, TV subscription, car insurance, house insurance or the banking markets. The list is endless. And each one is royally ripping off the consumer

We don’t need competition we need ethics and morals to be the major factor at board level. And as that’s never likely to happen we need massive punishments against directors for allowing the unethical practices.

Music to our ears William. We thought we were alone in this thinking.

This post raises a few key issues for me.

1) the CMA have agreed with 7 years worth of data that dodgy practices have been going on. How many prosecutions will they be bringing? I’m guessing none.

2) So for 7 years supermarkets have been learning how best to deceive the public and Which? are writing to these same companies asking them what they’ll do about it. Well good luck with that, they’ll do the absolute bare minimum they think they’ll get away with.

3) They’ve been getting away with it as Trading Standards aren’t fit for purpose although that’s not all their own fault. Legislation, enforcement and punishments are weak to the point that I feel it encourages these dodgy practices.

[ as an aside I’ve been reporting companies to the ASA for not displaying the access and service charges along with their ripoff 084 numbers, and all the ASA have done is write to them asking them to correct it. Ofcom announced in Dec 2013 the changes to come into effect July 2015, yet why were there no penalties for not doing so from day 1. It’s this sort of weak corporate governance that works against the consumer. ].

Fines need to be a sizeable chunk of turnover, directors stripped of their positions, the money could go to Trading Standards to help pay for the activities and staff that are being cut.

And why don’t Which? ask the people here to make suggestions then get us to vote the best ones out of the many hundred that will no doubt be suggested.

Here’s a few to start you off: a) Amend the Price Marking Order 2004, to remove the opt-out of having to display a unit price on promotions. b) Make it compulsory that all multi-buys to be applied equally to individual items e.g bogof give 50% off for a single item c) Product shrinkages to be marked as prominently as they currently do when they’re giving away extra.

Jay says:
31 July 2015

Biggest scammers from them all is Morrisons. They have rubbish fruit . No taste what’s so ever. Make a note on offers and then check your receipt. 10 of time it hapend.
Asda is in Similer line.

Pete Nicholls says:
1 August 2015

I use to shop at morrisons but no longer, (Aldi or Lidl for everything now ) and use to buy my fruit every day until they put the price up on bananas by 21p over night . A lot of my friends and family also no longer shop at morrisons, and now the supermarket giant is paying the price for being greedy, which serves them right…

I don’t see how any grocery business can prosper in the long term if they have to resort to continuous trickery over special offers, prices etc. Does any other business sector behave like this?
That’s why we shop at Aldi, what you see is mainly what you get.

Nicola Houghton says:
31 July 2015

It is not only misleading prices that consumers should be concerned about, it is also in the food itself and the lack of transparency of the information that is put on the packaging.

Debs says:
31 July 2015

I run a website with my colleague louise McDaid we are working with the law commission to bring in better consumer protection. We are so fed up with the way supermarkets mislead consumers we have also worked with bis to make tesco put a warning on the Christmas savings stamp cards because not many consumers are aware but if you buy these stamps and tesco close you have no protection in any way at all. So if you save this way please be very careful.

[Sorry Debs, we don’t allow links to your own website. Thanks, mods.]

Tracy says:
31 July 2015

Not everyone can buy in bulk! there are a lot of single people out there paying out more money as they don’t buy bulk, even if they do to save money, it is wasted and in the bin as it has passed it’s sell by date or if they have eaten it, hello obesity!!!! PLEASE think about the single people out there not just the big families.

David Stuart says:
1 August 2015

Well said Tracy! I’ve been on at Tesco for some time about this e.g. no small tins of Heinz products but so far to no avail!

Liz Denton says:
31 July 2015

So what’s happened to the comment I made couple of minutes back ????