/ Food & Drink, Shopping

What’s your biggest supermarket pricing bugbear?

Supermarkets are price matching, bombarding us with offers and claiming to drop thousands of prices. But, I’m sure you’ve noticed, the cost of your shop is going up. Do you trust supermarkets to charge a fair price?

We’re not helped by the fact that there are a whole range of ways in which supermarkets make it hard to work out what’s good value and what isn’t.

That’s my biggest bugbear – it’s often difficult to see what’s a genuine special offer and what might be smoke and mirrors. Cue standing in the aisles trying to work out whether that wine really is worth £10. Commenter Champmanfan agrees, telling us on a previous special offers Conversation that:

‘Unless you’ve got a smartphone to compare products – phone signal permitting – there isn’t a fair way to find out how special those offers actually are.’

That’s by no means the only thing that makes getting round a supermarket an obstacle course.

Confusing supermarket prices

When we recently asked what bothers Which? members the most about supermarket pricing, the proliferation of multi-buys, compared with actual discounts on products, came out as their top gripe. Which? Convo commenter Allan agrees:

‘Why are we offered “buy one get one free!” Why not cut the price in half or to a third, and let everyone enjoy a cheaper shop? Those on a fixed income such as our old folk on a pension could then benefit from a few extra bargains.’

Labelling that leads you to think items are on offer when they’re not is hot on its heels, followed by difficulty comparing the cost of items due to confusing unit prices.

We’ve also uncovered other problems over the past year. Like bigger pack items labelled as better value, but actually happen to be worse value than the smaller ones. Or items that are advertised as on offer but are out of stock when you get to the shop.

Do you trust supermarkets?

Perhaps it’s not surprising that only 22% of you trust supermarkets to charge a fair price for food. Commenter ‘Victor Meldrew fan’ doesn’t trust supermarket pricing either:

‘Supermarket pricing policy is now designed to increase margins primarily through confusing their “loyal” customers into buying bargains that are not bargains. It’s a shame that the supermarkets can get away with being so blatantly deceitful. It doesn’t take a marketing guru to know that all customers really want is decent, honest pricing.’

So, when you’re doing your weekly shop, what bugs you the most about supermarket pricing?



I use Tesco because there is no local competition and I have no wish to drive miles every time I want to visit a supermarket.


Sorry – I should have said that Tesco features very frequently in discussions about pricing issues on this website. There seems little point in recycling these issues.


Is there a website that will let me put in my shopping list and price it up for me so I can see which of the three alternative supermarkets near me has the cheapest basket? If not, why not?

Francesca says:
16 December 2011

http://mysupermarket.co.uk/ will show you the price at different stores, though you have to choose one store to start shopping from, and as you shop it will show you what the items in your basket would cost at the other main supermarkets. You are still able to swap to another store before checkout, or close the window and go there in person if you prefer to shop in person. The pricing is not always accurate, as I have found after my online shop has arrived, but I suppose they can’t always get it right.


if you shop at one of the big supermarkets, then enter your receipt details the day after youl get a refund and money off your next sho of they were not cheapest, thats quick and easy to do. so you dont have to worry wethert was the best deal or not.


What do you think supermarkets and comparison websites do with all your shopping information?
One of the big four release an “income tracker” report every 6 months or so, based on customers wages, spend, etc. They may not be able to sell on your private information but they can sell on reports and analysis of their customer’s spending habits.
Comparison websites make affiliate commission if they refer you to any given supermarket website or allow you to shop, who do you think pays for this? Customers by any chance?
Comparison websites are destroying competition, within hours of comparing, two of the big four in my area’s pricing are identical on a whole range of products.

Don’t believe me? Ask yourself this – why is it that every “offer” “price check” [call it what they will] always involves visiting their website, entering details, registering with them?
Information gathering so that they can price via demographic for maximum profits!
Our local asda till staff were asking for customer postcodes back in October, the crazy thing is, people were telling them!
Tesco have revealed that they use some kind of tracking software to detect people who are using/registering more than 1 email address on their website.

Open your eyes people, supermarket’s are pricing goods, not based on the cost price to them for each item, but on demigraphics so they can extract maximum profits. This is after they have reduced their prices so low, they have killed off most of the local competition, the prices shoot up again and we all pay.
A big town not 20 miles from me, had a big tesco supermarket in its town centre. It was in a prime location, just off a main motorway, with loads of investment in the area, new home building/retail space, etc.
As the cuts bite and cutbacks were made, they have closed down the store. Not enough scope for increasing profits? The store was doing very well at the time.

Always shop in cash, tell businesses/websites as little as possible, then watch the prices fall.


Whilst I am no fan of the supermarkets’ sales tactics, tracking customer behaviour does benefit us as consumers. When was the last time you went into a supermarket and found empty shelves? This used to be a common occurrence – goods out of stock, awaiting deliveries, etc., especially in the week after Christmas.

Do you think they have warehouses crammed to the rafters with perishable goods, just waiting to replenish the shelves after Mr/Ms Anonymous completes the weekly raid on their stock? No, these sales tracking systems help supermarkets predict customer behaviour – what you are likely to buy in the coming weeks, based on a whole range of factors. This feeds back into the supply chain, helping growers and manufacturers to optimise production.

Apart from ensuring you get your turkey at Christmas, it also reduces the amount of wastage and keeps costs down. Without demographic information, how would they know how many turkeys they need to stock in each store? Whether that benefits you in person, or the shareholders, it is good practice and good for the environment.

I know it’s fashionable to knock big business, but I can’t help admiring the logistics and systems that will contribute to us having food we want on the table over the coming holiday.


Sorry Em, I disagree completely with your view.

“tracking customer behaviour does benefit us as consumers”
Prior to the dominance of the big 4 supermarket’s, the customer benefited from some genuine competition.
Supermarket A didn’t know the offers, sales and stock levels of supermarket B in a given area, they had no access to information regarding income, they could only estimate shoppers habits (ie, they couldn’t view the weekly shopping figures of an individual) the only way to attract customers into their stores was on prices and special offers.
Further proof exists when a supermarket opens in a town where they were up against mostly local, independant competition. Again, with no way of telling the prices, stock of their direct competition, the supermarket prices reflected this and are price at good value on the basis of their costs of supply.
Once locals close down and sufficient customer numbers are driven away from the town centres, the supermarket prices are increased, often based upon factors of the area. Wages, population, jobs market, housing prices, etc.
Where I live tesco opened a big store (where other local business planning applications were refused…) on the edge of our small town.
All was well, until about a year in, a customer raised the question with the store manager about why the fuel prices of tesco were 1p-2p higher in our store than a store 2 miles away, when their delivery of fuel came from the exact same tanker on the same date. (Customer had filled up 2 miles away at tescos and ended up following the same tanker to the other tesco on his way home) – from the manager, “We charge the higher price at our store as there is less competition in the area!”
Prior to tesco opening, there had been plenty of competition in the area, tesco’s undercut the locals, closing 2 of them down!

“When was the last time you went into a supermarket and found empty shelves?”
In asda 2 miles away – 5 out of the last 7 weeks. I only buy a few branded goods each week, none at all if the price isn’t right, mostly if what we use at home is on offer.
Out of stock on;
Warburtons toastie bread – on two occasions
Shield soap
Lurpak butter – twice
This is not only down to customer demand, as they have more than enough of their own brand versions (read: bigger profit margins) where the branded version shelf space has been reduced, at prices that the branded used to be before they shot up.
Take butter for example, 60 odd thousand square foot superstore, turnover in excess of £1 Million per week, asda often have instock just two boxes (thats 40 units) of lurpak. More often than not this is when it is on a “special offer”
Two big name brands have vanished altogether, not seen them for three weeks, whilst their own brand has appeared at the price that lurpak and the magical missing brands used to be a few months ago.
Now why do you suppose that is? They have shopping history of those products there.
Could it be that when there is no lurpak on the shelf, a big percentage pick up the own brand asda butter instead?
End result, all customers suffer from higher pricing and less choice!

“these sales tracking systems help supermarkets predict customer behaviour – what you are likely to buy in the coming weeks, based on a whole range of factors”
You are kidding yourself if predicting customer behaviour is done for customer’s benefit.
It is not predicting behaviours, it is information gathering, look at the money tesco paid to buy the company which set up their clubcards for them. It is valuable tool to maximise profits and has been used to pay for itself at customer’s expense.

“This feeds back into the supply chain, helping growers and manufacturers to optimise production”
What growers? What manufacturers?
The damage to farmers is well documented, manufacturers of food that have stood for decades have been put out of business. Generations of families who worked for manufacturers have been put out of work, something we never hear about in the media when a new supermarket opens.
What about all the contracts supermarkets have negotiated with manufacturers and growers, then when it becomes a mainstay in their production, contracts are re negotiated and taken away if bigger discounts are not given, costing jobs?
These savings on production are rarely passed on to the customer.

“Apart from ensuring you get your turkey at Christmas, it also reduces the amount of wastage and keeps costs down” – “it is good practice and good for the environment.”
Wastage keeps costs down does it?
I don’t see the prices falling in the supermarkets where I live. Tesco’s last six months sales report prooves this – over all sales down 0.5% whilst profits increased by 12% – that’s not keeping costs down, that’s increasing profits at customer’s expense.
Supermarkets are one of the biggest reasons for the vast amounts of landfill that we are all paying for. The packaging waste they produce is horrendous!
This is because goods have to be packaged, as they are stored for hideous lengths of time.

To associate supermarkets with being “good for the environment” makes me suspect you are connected in someway with the supermarkets?
One of the biggest environmental damagers today are the supermarkets!
Take fruit for example.
Often grown outside of our strict food safety laws and imported, some of the fruit on supermarket shelves is upto a year old!
Grown abroad – picked, gas waxed and stored (co2 emissions)
Transported into mainland europe (more co2)
Shipped to UK (yet more co2)
Shipped and stored in main supermarket depots (more co2)
Shipped out to stores (more co2)
Chilled at store (more co2) if not sold, returned to be used in ready meals (more co2)

Take an apple grown in the UK supplied by a market trader.
Grown here under strict laws, nothing additional added in growing process, no gas waxing, etc.
Shipped to wholesalers (co2)
Picked up by market trader (more co2)
Sold within days. If not sold, used for animal feed.
Which is better for the environment? Which is better for the customer’s health and pocket?

I don’t knock big business because it’s fashionable, I disagree with their whole ethos.
Supermarket advertising is false – costs for the customer have been going through the roof – they are similar to banks in that they have favourable conditions/planning etc, yet are abusing their position to make obscene profits.
Their business model is killing towns all over the UK, taking away choice.
Their prices are not based on cost of product to them, they are based on demographic, never admitted by supermarkets.
They claim they are cheaper, yet barring a few items, I can source my shopping cheaper than
a supermarket.
People can no longer walk to their town centre, shopping street and get what they need. They now have to get transport to an edge of town supermarket. Increasing pollution. Increasing traffic congestion.
The law isn’t applied to supermarkets as it would be to individuals, I wouldn’t get the planning that they would for my business, I wouldn’t be able to offer “sales” that are clearly not sales, trading standards would be all over me like a rash.

Apologies for the long winded reply, but it is a major issue as regards the cost of living today and is damaging every household.

Realist says:
14 December 2011

Well I suppose we reap what we sow!

The big supermarkets advertising and their apparent convenience have led most people over the years to shop there and not in ‘local’ shops so we are generally left with not much choice but to use them i.e. one of the six or so bigger supermarkets.

The supermarkets spend a lot of time and expertise in developing marketing strategies to make customers think they are getting better deals than they are and starting initiatives, they will tell us, owing to ‘customer demand’ when in reality most of these are schemes are to get customers ‘interested’ and therefore then purchase items that are not really needed.

To resist this requires the awareness of them, time, effort and determination on the part of customers. Otherwise the rules are bent as far as they can be by the stores. This rule bending really ought to be publicised more and action taken against them where appropriate.

On the wholesale (supply) side the stores collectively use similar bully boy tactics to each other and have vested in them owing to scale much power. Some or many of the offers seen by the customer that are actual reductions are forced onto the suppliers who take the brunt of the reduced cost. It is not unknown for the supermarket buyers to force cost cutting whilst appearing to maintain quality through poorer specifications for goods and advertising them to customers as their own ‘top of the range’ items. The customer does not have the knowledge to recognise these things. Typically is the addition of water and binder in prepared foodstuffs to make up bulk etc. but really adding no value.

So my personal opinion is that most customers are conned by the supermarkets to a greater or lesser extent.

I have no trust.

Fortunately though for some things I still have some great local shops but most of the bulk must still come from the bigger suppliers or internet. I just have to be very careful. Not everyone is so lucky with local suppliers and time availability to take care.

Realist says:
14 December 2011

John Wards idea is good and is already available to some extent especially via price comparison sites for the internet (including Which?) but, for shop sold items it would require an enormous amount of effort to deal with the wide disparity and variations within chains and over short periods of time

– unless there was access to the stores own pricing databases !!!


Tesco and to a lesser extent Sainsbury’s have now lost my regular custom from the ridiculous wine pricing they use. As if the permanent sale at DFS wasn’t bad enough, I’m now bombarded with “half-price” wine offers. No actually! The wine is at the right price (approx £5 a bottle) and has been offered for sale at a silly price that no one in their right mind would pay. Legal but unpleasant tactics.


Why is it often cheaper to purchase the “supermarket own brand” fruit and/or veg which is in a plastic tub, wrapped in lots of (non recyclable) plastic than it is to purchase the loose fruit and veg?? The bugbear to this is that my council does not recycle any plastics which are not bottles despite plastic tubs being easily recyclable, as such I try to purchase products from the supermarket which have the least packaging and I think they take advantage of this, generally speaking, by charging more for items which are loose!


I always shop at Morrisons. A few weeks ago ,gold label barley wine had increased from £4.97 to £5.67. I contacted th