/ 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.


At our local ASDA and Morrisons it is impossible to compare similar products for value as some are marked at ‘per 100g’, some at ‘per Kg’, and yet others at ‘per unit’! And this is on products that are identical apart from different manufacturers and their own brands. And to add to the confusion they are all in similar packaging but have different weights but only differing by a few grams making comparisons virtually impossible.

Also why does ASDA have four of their own lines? One is marked as ‘ASDA Chosen by You’, one is ‘ASDA Extra Special’, one is ASDA own brand and the other is ‘ASDA Smarprice’. All of these lines are usually identical, especially in the matter of food stuffs, the main difference is price. Again these are packaged in slightly differing weights to make comparisons extremely difficult.

As shoppers we should not be expected to be either mathematical geniuses nor should we have to carry a calculator round with us just to compare prices and value for money!

Sainsbury’s and Tesco have three grades for their own-label products. The ‘basic’ level is often acceptable but the ‘standard’ and ‘premium’ grades play to the psychology of people who want a product that looks more refined or has smarter presentation. Tesco in particular seem to try to mimic M&S. To differentiate them from the basic range, the higher-grade products often have a tiny amount of some extra ingredient to kid you that it is a superior product, whether you want that – or can even taste it – is irrelevant: it adds a smidgeon to the production cost but 10% or more to the selling price.

On its own, perhaps a ‘Taste the Difference’ pork sausage is a better banger, but when it’s served up with bacon and eggs, mushrooms and fried onions, and with Worcestershire sauce all over it, the subtle flavour sensation is possibly imperceptible and the higher cost not worth it.

Malcolm says:
3 August 2015

I get sick of Lidl and Aldi putting their prices above products sometimes when in a rush I see a price below the item and get it only to realize it was dearer as it was the price above I have fallen for this tactic of theirs numerous times

Lev says:
3 August 2015

I agree!!! I thought I was the only one noticing this, but it looks I’m not the only one falling by this small mean ‘trick’!!

Virginia Warwick says:
3 August 2015

Yes like many before me I have made the same mistake and even had an heated debate with one of Lidl’s employees when he took me to the shelf in question and point to the label above the product. I felt an idiot!

Hi Virginia, perhaps the supermarkets here can be persuaded to do what shops do in Spain. Put a little arrow at the front edge of the shelf pointing up or down indicating what the price relates to.

TelMeUK says:
3 August 2015

That’s a good idea Valencian, I’m always doing it but I’m thick skinned and say no if the price is more than I thought, even if I want it. Clarity is the answer!

lesley says:
5 August 2015

omg I’m so sick of these supermarkets with this stupid petty trickery on us loyal customers, costing us a small fortune and giving them massive profits in the meantime.

Steven Durham says:
3 August 2015


attention! says:
3 August 2015

make sure of consistency, all products have per 100g pricing in ALL PRODUCTS, not just some, big letters for OAPs to see, not in tiny letters;
DO NOT CHARGE FOR AIR?WATER at the petrol stations. MOST OAPs shop at Sainsburys now as they give FREE Air/water, as A protest/principal.
Also mark PROCESSED food for ignorant majority to recognise this.
Alos ALDI & LIDL please do not put prices OVER the product but in the same shelf as the product.

David Ritman says:
3 August 2015

Come on, you know where they put them and they are clearly displayed. This is a lazy complaint. I use several supermarkets and just because these are different doesn’t make them worse. Just look and read them, They name the product and the price.

Malcolm Gaier says:
3 August 2015

I agree it is not difficult to read a price ticket and understand what it is for. Overall I would say that Lidl’s pricing is good even going as far as showing the %reduction saved.

Has anyone picked up on Tesco’s hidden agenda that is in plain site?
Put your finger over the first E in there slogan “Every little helps” & all will be revealed!

Adrian Appley says:
17 August 2015

I will not buy anything from TOSCO’s – they are vile company.

It angers me to learn that the cost of most if not all of the ‘two for one’ offers is borne not by the retailer– but by the supplier or manufacturer… If true, the misleading tactics of the retailers involved are all the more deplorable.

Lev says:
3 August 2015

I completely agree!! I heard this in consumers programmes for small suppliers ‘forced’ by the big supermarkets (& tesco was a very bad one) to offer these bargains at their expenses only. Indeed this may be why quantity has also decreased. The supermarkets take the credit for the good offer with little no expenses (just the negotiation and the ‘threatening’ tactics).

Sarah Carter says:
13 June 2016

I work for a supplier and believe it is true that large supermarkets pull the strings with regards to pricing, they’ll place an order for so many cases then turn round and say they don’t want them, meaning we then have to sell them on.

Anyone use the Mysupermarket site? Check out “top offers” and note that the items and the number of entries in each catagory are almost identcal for the big stores. Makes you wonder.

I don’t use the site but after getting sick of Tesco very obviously price-hikingI don’t use the site but after getting sick of Tesco very obviously price-hiking a year or two back I started shopping around and comparing prices at Sainsburys, Asda, Aldi, Lidl and (when it eventually opened locally) Morrisons. I found very little difference, and bargains seemed to rotate in turn through them! While I think quite a lot of blame can be laid at the door of supermarkets for price misrepresentation, I ponder who is controlling supply/price at the wholesale end? I asked a Tesco cashier I was friendly with about the ‘price match’ system which guarantees you get a better price than at a competitor, and get some money back if they are selling cheaper – which is apparently all done by computer somewhere.

“But isn’t that open to abuse?” I countered. “It could be used to cartel prices – one puts their prices up, and the rest can just follow suit with perhaps the odd pence difference.” Which is pretty much what I had noticed when doing my mass supermarket comparison.

She just shrugged…

Two classic recent examples of gross misleading (deception) The Public –

both Sainsburys’ & Waitrose selling their own brand of Dish Washing Powder. A short time ago their packaging of 3.25 kg. was say £3.00 but in recent months while each’s packaging and price remained exactly the same the content has been REDUCED to 1kg only i.e. a quarter kilo LESS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If that’s not deception and fooling The Public then I dont know what is !!!!!!!

Yes, Tesco did that a while back with one of their frozen meals I used to get regularly, only the staff hadn’t been clever enough to finish one stock before using the new – with the result you had 600g packs and 400g packs on the shelf at the same time at the same price! The shelf price still indicated 600g but as I usually check the weight on the packaging, that was when I discovered the discrepancy. I knew Tesco were reducing pack weights but this was the most blatant example I’d seen!

Yes they all do it,. But here is a new one. Tetleys teabags are sold by quantity ie a 240 off bag. Well, recently I discovered in our loft an old sack of these so I decided to use them up and put them in the tea caddy saying nothing. Next day my daughter commented “These teabags seem to be a lot stronger than normal!” And they were!
I’m pretty sure this ain’t down to the contents maturing over time. More like a weaker mix bolstering the tea companies hidden profits. I don’t for one minute think Tetleys are alone with this practice!

Mark says:
3 August 2015

I hate it when a item is on on offer when you get to the Checkout the discount hasn’t been taken off and they say it’s not in the system yet so why can’t they put in the system before they put it on the shelves and not the other way round .

ALWAYS check your till receipt before leaving the supermarket. Any problems concerning offers that are not on the system yet, go to the customer service desk.. They will check the shelf ‘offer’ and probably give you a cash refund even if you paid by card.

Yes I do this but why should I have to?

Ditto. The local Tesco supermarket where I shop has one piddly customer service desk with one, at most two people there – and on Sunday morning when I shop, there’s usually a massive queue. If we’re on the subject of getting supermarkets to treat customers fairly, have bigger customer service desks in relation to the size of the store!

In many respects the great British public are also to blame for Rip off Britain & morally dubious trading practices experienced from Insurance, to Energy & to Supermarkets.
Those of us, the counter revolutionaries who dare to make the effort and chase value for money have been labeled as cheapskates. All to often we appear to these companies, happy to pay for the convenience of one stop shopping, default renewal of insurances & energy contacts. The Supermarkets exploit this further by offering & selling more & more convenience time saving products such as mashed potatoes & pre chopped, battoned vegatables. Prehaps if those cost the actual time saved vs the extra price paid, they would find pay rates exceeding their day jobs!
I believe nothing will change until we all on mass start voting with our credit/debit cards and start treating shopping as seriously as we do our jobs.

Malcolm says:
3 August 2015

Whenever I take out Insurance etc I tell them not to do automatic renewal and they alter it on their system so it is not automatically renewed.

You & I still represent a minority in opting out, (I saved £100 over the renewal this year & it only took a hour ).
One would think it would cost Insurance comanies more in administration to have people change every year, but the practice of charging higher for loyalty still goes on.
This would indicate that those staying outnumber those shopping around, that their tatics are cost effective.

Frances Jones says:
3 August 2015

I agree people are exploited because they’re too busy. The supermarkets love this. I will not buy a loaf or anything that is at the front of the shelf as it’s going to be nearly out of date but watch young people just lift things and never look the date. Don’t be a supermarket’s dream customer. Leave them with their old goods and let them get rid of them.

Ursula M. says:
3 August 2015

I totally agree with your comments!

trevor says:
4 August 2015

I do as well Frances and ursula.

Mary says:
14 June 2016

I have found it is the same with the major breakdown recovery companies as well. It always pays to swap around every year and tell them not to store your debit/credit card number.

Perhaps the supermarkets here can be persuaded to do what shops do in Spain. Put a little arrow at the front edge of the shelf pointing up or down indicating what the price relates to.
That would, I am sure, solve the problem of what price relates to what goods.

I have noticed that M&S do that on chiller cabinets where the bottom shelf does not have a strip for product and price tags.

John Wiltshire says:
3 August 2015

Morrisons this week
Large Whole Fresh Chicken £2.50 Kg. Same Size Chicken repackaged in 3 for £10 Offer – but Chicken re-priced at £2.85 Kg – Complete Con.
All the items I bought separately (not in the offer) and they cost me £8.34

smeesteve says:
3 August 2015

Do we really have a right to moan?
We live in a capitalist economy & society.
We had a vote in May and now we have a Tory government – unfettered capitalism is their aim.
They scratch the backs of those who support them – big business and commerce are their bosom-buddies.
Consumers in America are the white-mice in the capitalist experiment and Britain is also in that same laboratory.

I think we do have a right (and duty) to moan. We are not opposed to our shops and supermarkets being operated for profit, but we are aiming to provide compelling arguments that these businesses should also do their best to treat customers fairly.

trevor says:
4 August 2015

in other words
we get’s what we pays for in everything.
the day the public decide they have had enough is the day things will change…but not necessarily for the better
cause capitalism is all we know.
so as much as we complain
we are nevertheless accustomed to this set up
and if it was to change
you’d be surprised when you would find people complaining.
its so sad ; 0(

And how pray would it be any different, or has it been any different with a political range of government! This situation has not developed overnight has it?

SueB says:
3 August 2015

Tesco is the worst – they often run out of a product on offer then fill that shelf with a similar product not on offer at twice the price or more. I’ve seen them do this with profiteroles (with Tesco’s finest at 3 times the price in their place), and various vegetables

jim potter says:
3 August 2015

Sainsbury sometimes give substantial petrol vouchers, looks great until you find that their nearest fuel station is 15 miles from your local store.

Stan says:
4 August 2015

Lidl started off cutting prices,.. now they cut quality. I started buying Motorcycle Boots at £25 from them years ago. Initially they were a fair product for the price. I use them and systematically downgrade them. I used to have at least one pair in reserve. The last several pairs have been Total Rubbish with the Poorest Quality Sponge Rubber used on the Heal & Soles. What started off as nearly a solid heal got emptier by the pair,.. the latest pair lasted a matter of a couple of months before the heals completely collapsed. There is still loads of tread left but they are unsafe to wear. They dropped the price advertising it was Reduced, it was not. The product had changed. Likewise their Workman’s Jacket,.. they started with Removable Lining & a Hood,.. the reduced priced item,.. No Lining & No Hood,.. a different product. They have got the custom in this country now they drop the quality that attracted us to them.

Frances Jones says:
5 August 2015

So glad to see the farmers taking a stand against the supermarkets. It’s time we all stood together and give them something to think about it. Years ago people would’ve made a stand but with some having plenty money now they don’t care about less well off.

As milk is an internationally-traded commodity, with demand falling apparently, there is pressure on prices as happens on other products. Chicken,eggs and cereals have also suffered this way.

Consumers appear to demand lower prices so the market responds.

This will seem to be a battle between small dairy farmers and large ones, the latter with lower costs as they have the means to invest in automation, genetics and high-tech feed management.
The Glasgow Based farmers’ cooperative First Milk has paid a “pittance” (as low as 16p a litre) for its 1300 members’ milk, apparently. Elsewhere farmers get between 21p and 32p. Some supermarkets are seemingly paying a price based on production costs plus a profit for the farmer.

So its a mixed picture but in what we must recognise as an international business.

But we do need to make sure we can continue to be self-sufficient in milk production in case the availability of imported milk is disrupted for any reason. To some extent that requires a degree of market intervention, or at least stabilisation. It worries me that many farmers are going out of milk production and in its turn that impacts on beef production [half the calves born to milking cows are likely to be bulls that would be reared for home-produced beef].

Frances Jones says:
5 August 2015

I worry that if farmers go out of business what will happen to the countryside. We would have a wilderness in a lot of areas. Surely we can pay a bit more just to keep our lovely country looking good. I know I would. Supermarkets just don’t care about anything but profit for their shareholders.

Sadly the effects on the countryside are already becoming very apparent with 100-acre fields now covered in solar panels [subsidised by our good selves through levies on our energy bills]. Perhaps it wasn’t prime dairy pasture but it could have been used for pigs or crops to reduce the need for imports and keep UK agriculture thriving and would have been a better use of subsidy.

Apparently the “Basic Fair Payment” scheme – a “reform” to the EU’s CAP – can allow landowners to claim a subsidy on land that could be used for livestock or cultivation, but is left unused. So you get paid for doing very little, and certainly for not producing food.

Until we get agriculture on a straightforward basis I don’t see how we can have a sustainable farming system that does not get distorted by such fiddles.

M&S are misleading on their “Meal deals for two” which offer a main course, veg, pudding and wine for £10. Many of the main courses will serve three, and a whole chicken 6. Even some puddings do more than two and a bottle of wine – 4 big glasses? Cheers.

Misleading pricing? John Lewis Broadband comes with an offer of “free” broadband for six months. Which? has now made it a “Best Buy” – previously it was regarded as too expensive. However you have to take out a 12 month contract – which dilutes the offer substantially. I don’t think Which? should award Best Buys on this basis. This is a tactic that seems to be used a lot on broadband to lure you in to a tempting contract that you’ll forget to abandon when the price shoots up.

I agree. I would prefer if the company offered a loyalty bonus instead. On the other hand, I support short-term free trials so that allow users to evaluate a service and have no problem with Which? offering a trial for £1 because the subscription can be ended by cancelling the direct debit.

Roger Hayes says:
10 August 2015

Last week I looked at a Philips 8638/20 steam generator iron in Currys. The price was £129.95 reduced from £179.95 which had been in force for 3 weeks in July 2015. Today, the price was £169.95 but the ticket stated that it was an £80 reduction from £249.95 that had been charged from Nov to Dec 2014. This is an absolute con trick suggesting that the product was £80 cheaper when in fact there was a £40 INCREASE from last week. Had I not seen last week’s price, I could have been fooled into thinking today’s price was a real bargain. I’m afraid I lost my cool and swore about how this was a blatant con trick. (Prices are set by Head Office was the only excuse I was offered.)

Currys now list it at £139.99 “saving £60, was £199.99 11/6 to 5/8/15”. It can currently be bought from Amazon for £139.99 free delivery. It is also listed from other sellers at £309 and £319. John Lewis sell at £179.95.
It would be nice if an insider told us what the real cost price of appliances was so we could judge whether a sensible retailer mark up was being applied. But the same steam generator that varies from £140 to £319!
Which? could do us all a big favour if it published target prices for many products so we could shop more wisely.

Which? reports usually have a ‘best price’ section included in the product reviews. The problem is updating this information on a daily basis. It reinforces the point that consumers must shop around – nobody else is going to do that for us. I don’t suppose it took you very long to get the results you posted above but the big issue is the manipulation of the prices, which is probably driven by a computer programme allied to sales figures and stock levels. The closest parallel is betting where the tic-tac man has been replaced by sophisticated software.

John, agreed. I don’t remember Which? showing Amazon as a best price supplier though – may have missed it – or perhaps “on-line” is meant for us to search

. Why prices should vary so much is surely not just about sales figures – to me it implies large margins they can play with, at our expense if we don’t think to search, or if we are out shopping and impulsive. I don’t like the term “rip-off” because it has become overused but these big variations in price – even between John Lewis and Currys (currently) – suggests taking advantage.

By target price I didn’t mean what was available from major retailers, but what we might reasonably expect to pay based on cost plus a sensible margin. We may not find it offered at that price today, but it might attach a “value” to the item for us to consider.

Yes, I agree with you on both points, the infinitely elastic margins, and the target price idea – I think that would be a very useful influence on the market.

Unfortunately, since Comet fell out of the sky, there has not been much real competition. Currys is part of a huge conglomerate, Dixons Carphone, with over 500 outlets, not all of them selling white goods but far more appliance sales than any other retailer with a physical presence. John Lewis is regarded as too upmarket for many purchasers whereas most people have a Currys/PC World/Dixons shed in their district and their complex price adjustments and apparent discounts project the impression of a value offer at any time. For the purchase of an appliance never had before people take their time to check prices; when a machine packs up and has to be replaced, urgency is paramount. I usually find Tesco on-line is a good benchmark for prices and their service is also good.

Frances Jones says:
11 August 2015

I can feel your frustration. This is totally unacceptable and government should be doing something about it. I am sick of “Head Office” decisions. It’s a total cop out. I thought Which was the company to tackle these issues but apparently not.
I took part ages ago in a cold telephone calling campaign for Which in Silverburn Shopping Centre in Glasgow and not one thing has changed. If anything I’m getting double the amount of calls now than then!!