/ 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.

kath says:
1 August 2015

It is unfair and dishonest to prey on customers by implementing misleading offers. To run short duration price hikes accompanied by rip off “2 for” offers that are more costly than the long standing original price is very wrong. I would also say that it is equally misleading and frustrating to label loose produce (I am talking vegetables and fruit here) in a way which means it is practically impossible to make a price comparison with the same “packaged” (plastic bagged) product. I do believe that it is largely manufacturers that are reducing the amount of product you get for the same money, not necessarily the sale end point (Supermarket). However, Supermarkets need to have a serious rethink if they wish to stay in business. They are losing loyalty left, right and centre yet with tactics such as these, is it any wonder? They desperately need to be honest and clear about prices and stop treating customers so shabbily because they are not as indispensable as they would like to imagine.

Yes, loyalty seems to be a one way street for supermarkets. Like Tesco, they are slow to recognise that respect and loyalty is a two way street. Thankfully customers can vote with their feet, but how sad it is that enforcement is necessary for decent ethical practice!

Bring back Kwik Save!!

There is a lot of pressure on people today, So why do shops think it is alright to con people who have not got time to stand and do the maths. My mum’s friend can not see so well. If my can not go to the supermarket with her. She can not read the small print. It’s a form of robbery. I have also noticed that if they have a special offer on they put a few of these items out. When I asked the staff if all had been sold I was told their would be more put out the day after as that days had been sold. What is all that about?

Hi Mary,

It sounds to me that the special offer you mentioned could have been a genuine loss-leader so the store had decided to set a limit on the number available each day.

I have to call up my mental arithmetic skills when I go shopping. The price per 100g is OK but it’s the shrinking of packages that’s really annoying. KitKat used to have 5 fingers. Not now. I used to struggle to finish a Mars bar – not now. I saw handwash the other day reduced from £1.80 to £1- it was never £1.80 – it was always £1.

Jon says:
1 August 2015

how about having two prices on every product. 1 – the price supermarkets pay and 2 – the price they charge us. expose their profits and watch things change overnight! 🙂

I like the idea of that, but it might give consumers more headaches than when judging value by the straight selling price. The problem, especially for fresh produce, is that in between the buying price and the selling price there is a lot of room for creative accountancy for such things as transport, preparation, marketing, and so on. And with VAT-able goods there are further complications.

Straightforward competition is the best way to keep prices down. I find the evidence for this is Tesco’s “Price Promise”. When the campaign started it was not unusual to get a voucher for £5 on a regular shop, indicating that other major supermarkets were cheaper. Now it is rare to get a voucher for more than pennies showing that Tesco has had to realign its prices to retain custom, not just offer money-off vouchers only a percentage of which get redeemed. Tesco might be worried about Aldi and Lidl but it is frightened of Asda. Yesterday I was given a ticket with the till roll that said “Today you saved £0.60”. Big deal.

Ian Montgomery says:
2 August 2015

If you knew the difference in wholesale/shop floor prices you would be surprised. (probably not)
One cut price shop was selling pens at two for a pound. Just for fun I tracked the supplier to a small factory in China. If I bought 2,000 I could have had them at ten for a penny, really!! Plus transport costs which wouldn’t have increase item price if I had filled a shipping container. 5,000,000 pens anyone?

In her introduction, Jane wrote: “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. ”

I have no doubt that enforcement action is needed, but what enforcement action is available? We need to find out.

Arlo says:
1 August 2015

Aldi have started the same scams as other major supermarkets by pricing their apples per apple rather than per Kg. They dont have scales for the customer to use so I dont know how to compare. I now go to Lidi for my apples.

I do not know if scales for customers’ use are mandatory, but they don’t have to be certified in the same way as those used at the tills. I don’t shop in Aldi but if I did I would ask the store manager how customers can compare products without scales available. I did once mention this in a supermarket and was shown that there were scales, albeit in a very inconvenient place.

I’m always keen to compare the unit prices and can often be seen doing the required math. This is a lot easier when I have my phone with me because I can use it as a calculator.

I suppose good advice to others would be:

Shop regularly and only buy want you need (or what you really, really want).

Only worry about the price that you are going to have to pay – ignore all the “reduced from” prices.

ronald v. says:
1 August 2015

Is an acceptance of blatant dishonesty part of the qualification to be a supermarket CEO or even just a director/executive. What happens when a lowly member of staff, who believes in integrity and corporate ethics, speaks out ??
Are they simply sacked or treated as nincompoops ??

I think what you call “blatant dishonesty” is referred to as the euphemism “normal business practice” by some marketing and sales types.

At least we don’t often hear references to ‘reputable company’ in the context of supermarkets. 🙂

I think the pressure to match prices – in both directions – gets in the way of any ethical principles.

It would be nice to have a week when all the offers were stripped away, all the price-match promises were cast aside, when nothing was sold for less than it cost to produce, all the shelf-labels were double checked for accuracy, and everything was priced to sell on its own credentials.

Yet again I am going to say think about our “Oldies & Goldies. Until you have one you don’t appreciate quite how difficult the weekly shop becomes.

1. Dodgy knees or hips, can only manage to walk/stand for 30/40 mins. including checkout time.

2. Can’t read the price per kilo (always in small print) without having to change their glasses from distance to reading. Not everybody can “get on” with bifocals or varifocals.

3. Have arthritic fingers so can’t use a calculator or mobile to calculate the true price.

4. Reliant on another person for transport who possibly if not probably is very busy & has a limited about of time to give. This then can’t make the O & G feel that hey are a nuisance.

I’m sure that others of you can add to this list.

I like your “Oldies & Goldies” terminology. Presumably this group is older than the Silver set and younger than the Platinum parade. Quite jurassic, really, but not completely cretaceous.

Karen says:
1 August 2015

Hi , every week I used to buy pack of 2 peppered steaks for £1.99 , I would buy them in bulk because the kids loved them .
I went to purchase them the next time they had shot up by 59p. I refuse to buy them. I kept going back and a gain they had gone up a gain by another 15p , so I buy them from butchers from now on.

Chris D says:
1 August 2015

My metal arithmetic skills are very good, for your average shopper, and I bulk buy when I spot a ‘deal’ and can usually avoid ‘rip-offs’. Life is too short and those without the numeric skills, or the will/time to apply them, ARE short changed – this is not acceptable.

Ant says:
1 August 2015

Because, we, the public, have encouraged the growth of the BIG Supermarket chains, by using them without being price conscious, they have grown to assume that as a “category” , their customers will pretty much accept that their actions and policies regardless.
I was “ripped off” by a large Supermarket (T—-), a flat screen TV I had bought, (their own product) had an erratic fault where the picture would disappear. Despite one of their Aftersales Service people admitting that the tv in question had been the subject of a series of complaints, I got no satisfaction. Even their CEO would not act.
SO these Supermarkets deserve all that the market provides, the bad with the good!
I do get some satisfaction in seeing this particular Store dropping down the “go to” tables.


I am sorry to hear that you could not even get a full refund under the terms of the sale of goods act.

Regular Which? readers will know that cheap supermarket tellys are often built to rubbish quality standards and are best avoided.

Frances Jones says:
2 August 2015

I have noticed a big drop in customers at the Tesco store in Irvine where I shopped until recently. Think folks are fed up being ripped off. Another thing is the shop is freezing around the fridge areas. I will def not be shopping in the Arctic. It’s stopped me from buying anything from the fridge. No, I’m back at local co-op after a few years getting ripped off.

Don't trust Windows 10 says:
2 August 2015

I am repeatedly disgusted by pricing strategies at all of the supermarkets that I visit; with some products having increases of 50% just so that they can claim later that it is on special offer.

The biggest villains aren’t the energy companies (recent B Gas profits £550m divided between c. 11m customers works out at about £4.17 profit per household per month), it’s the supermarkets. Supermarkets make about 5x that profit per household and to fuel it they use deceitful tactics to get sales and keep prices artificially high, regardless of very low oil prices keeping running costs low and inflation not much above zero.

Supermarkets pricing strategies are just another reason that food bank usage is on the increase.

Ian Montgomery says:
2 August 2015

I don’t know if they still do this, but Morrisons placed a basket with, say, ham and cheese quiche under a sign giving a big reduction on ham, cheese and onion quiche, which was not on offer. We were caught out a few times. Not any more – we don’t shop there!
At least Tesco honoured an offer of Jack Daniels at £15 in the window. Imagine their discomfort when we pointed it out when they wanted to charge £18 at the checkout. Considering we had bought six months supply, that would have been a big increase in our bill.

John King says:
3 August 2015

Supermarkets have a “cartel”. Competition prices checked on line and INCREASED to match. The 28 day rule has encouraged over pricing to make false offers.

Quite right John. “Price Match” is a double-edged sword.

John King says:
3 August 2015

When value is changed by changing contents, packaging must be marked for 25% of annual production. “Up to 60% off” offers- At least 20% of goods reduced must be 60% off to use this style of description. Make promotions HONEST.

I think people like us are voting with their feet now. The worst offending supermarkets are losing custom fast to Lidl and Aldi. They have been taking us, the consumers, for fools and cheating us for too long.
They have also been undercutting farmers, especially diary farmers, forcing many out of business.
It offends me to think that the management of the offending supermarkets must sit around like a bunch of weasels devising ways to try to bamboozle us.
Energy companies are past masters at this too.

Helen Annand says:
3 August 2015

Keep it simple don’t over complicate try having lower prices ALWAYS

JJTS says:
3 August 2015

Quite a large part of the problems with suppliers generally is that the Regulators either don’t have the power, or are reluctant to act. For these failings I imagine they are well paid.