/ 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 the store at both keighley and bradford. Price correct. I contacted supplier Inbev Ltd.Not their initiative, they did inform me that this was also the price at Tescos, though Asda and Sainsburys are still £4.96 and £4.97 respectively.In my experience this disparity in price, is unusually large and almost unknown at Morrisons. An e-mail to morrisons did receive a reply, though more in justification, than explanation. P.S. may i add that this is a 4 pack 330ml can product.

graham says:
18 December 2011

we never go near any of the big 4 unless its 4 their marked down items ie close to their sell by date ,have got some good bargains as i pass a tesco every thursday night ,we always shop at aldi or lidl you get used to their stuff and so much cheaper

I read the Which review of supermarkets this month, and surprised to find tesco bottom?? I note there is no menton of the clubcard points scheme, which if you take into account provides excellent value, e.g i had £70 back in vouchers last month off tesco. This, plus refund and voucher on the tesco price checker means that its alue score seems unfair?

Tesco is a bit like Microsoft, McDonalds and other large companies. It is popular to criticise them even if many of us buy their products. I use Tesco simply because it is the only supermarket nearby. I hate their vouchers and often forget to use them. I realise that using a Tesco Clubcard collects data about me. The fact that Tesco is our largest supermarket demonstrates the success of what they do, though something annoys me every time I shop there. I’m sure that they would prefer to have happy customers like you, Greg, but that is not essential.

Did I compare Tesco with Microsoft? Sorry Tesco, that was not called for. 🙂

Mr. E.J.Wilson says:
22 December 2011

Sudden price rises.
I buy the popular Tesco Value Porridge Oats 1Kg pack. About 2 years ago it was 45pence then it rose to75pence. On Monday 19 December 2011 it suddenly jumped to 99pence. Don’t tell me this was a price rise linked to the current rate of inflation!!!
It’s small items like this on which the supermarkets regularly play around with rising prices hoping nobody notices too much-but just add them all up.

Notice the article in the news a few weeks back, about sales of porridge rocketing recently?
Exact same thing happened in our local asda and tesco, prices of porridge oats suddenly going through the roof. Much of what’s popular seems to stem from marketing, and often not long after articles in a certain industry magazine are released into the general media.

Not in anyway linked to the 75% rise in the price of oats due to a worldwide shortage. The thing with the bargain basement budget brands is you notice a price increase far more than in the branded products that have all the advertising costs and snazzy packaging to absorb smaller rises

Two bugbears from me;
1 – Having an asda and tesco within 2 miles of each other near to us, I often call at one then call at the other on my way home if I recall a cheaper price from the week before. I go at night, in the morning first thing, during the day, on weekends, etc.
The times I’ve seen the price shoot up in asda then called into tesco and its gone up to exactly the same price, happens too often to be a coincidence.

2 – Supermarkets getting away with misrepresentation on prices.
Yeo valley yoghurts 4 pack, both asda and tesco had them priced £1.20
Four days later they shot up in price to £1.78 at asda, the tescos followed suit. [“saving you money everyday” – “every little helps” – I think not!]
This was two weeks ago, today, tesco have them still at £1.78 but now you can buy 2 for £3 in their “sale” – which of course works out at £1.50 per pack, still 30p MORE than two weeks ago.
I was under the impression that they had to be sold at the higher price for a minimum of 28 days to enable them to be sold at a “sale” price?

This could all be stopped in a heartbeat, force supermarkets to have a national price list for all their stores, instead of pricing by demographic. Have the regulators/government got the will to do their jobs and help the people fight this flagrant abuse on the pockets of the family unit?

I used to be a grocery buyer for a large supermarket chain beginning with M. I’ve got over 25 years experience of working for various retailers so I’ve got a bit of an inside track on what goes on in supermarkets. I’ll answer some simple questions. Why do supermarkets do buy one get one free rather than half price – they sell twice as much! This is larder filling and it takes you out of the market for that product and stops you buying it elsewhere. Sharp practice? Not really they are just a business. That’s what businesses do – try an sell more and make a profit.
Why do they sometimes sell the small size for less than the large size? Often its because the small size is on a price comparison list and the large size isn’t.
Grocers aren’t demonic manipulators they are just businesses who try to make a decent profit – probably just like the company you work for

Supermarket’s are exactly that, demonic manipulators.
Our local tesco has destroyed our town centre, lowering prices/selling at a loss for months, killing any local businesses/petrol forecourts that stand in their way.
The manager there has admitted raising prices because the competition for fuel no longer exists.
Yet every 3 months or so, the same tesco has “local weekends” – where they allow about 20 stall holders to set up in their car park and blast local radio station over the tannoy! How cheeky is that!
One of the biggest reasons that the town centre is now dead, is due to their store and the way in which they have choked off local competition.
Most weekends tesco don’t allow any stalls and I’ve yet to hear local radio playing over their tannoy.

Business is business, etc, I can see where you are coming from, but supermarket’s have been given preferential treatment around here, in traffic controls, road access, planning permissions, etc.
A former asda store sold up before moving to its new superstore, to tesco, asda placed special terms on the sale to prevent it from selling certain stock items (anti competitive?)
The new asda store was supposed to be covered from main road view by a large tree planting but today, years later, its a concrete eyesore with no trees planted at all. If I were to build and trees were written into planning consent, I’d be forced to do it, so why not a supermarket?

What I am trying to say, is that they dominate way too much of the market share. Only this week I pulled tesco on a “2 for £xx” pricing – where the higher price (which matched their competitors by coincidence) was completely false and unrealistic – almost a 50% increase – so the “new offer” actually charges customers 60p more than the price was two weeks ago.
28 days is the industry standard for selling at a higher price, yet nothing is done by a blatent breach of trading standards law, tesco promised an answer but haven’t found one in 3 days.
End result is customer suffers with artificial higher price, lack of competition as both local supermarket chains have exactly the same price (this happens too many times to be a coincidence) few if any alternative outlets locally to buy the same product – because of supermarkets under cutting and competition policies – and supermarket gets away scot free to manipulate their customers without any protection.

People wonder why inflation is only 5% when supermarket prices are going up by huge amounts.

An industry magazine released in the mainstream media about porridge a few weeks ago, and the increase in sales of it. As if by magic, the supermarket price of porridge has shot up, another marketing ploy to raise money.
I understand profits have to be made, but take a look at tesco’s last 6 month sales report – sold 0.5% less goods whilst increasing their profits by 12%.
We live in a so called civilised society, yet people are having to live off hand outs, past sell by date food and even raiding skips – I wouldn’t call this civilised at all, so what are the big four doing about it?
Nothing at all!

Realist says:
27 December 2011

Well this topic is certainly getting plenty of replies and no wonder. Most people do think that they are being ripped off or the big brands are not generally good for the area. Well that’s owing to human nature and the businesses cashing in on it.

But more so there is the opinion being expressed that there is (almost if not fully) sharp practice going on. Time for WHICH? to become more active in this area?

Tim from Romsey says:
13 January 2012

Here’s a concrete example of cynical grocery pricing. Some time before Christmas, Pringles were 99p each. Now they are £2.49 each (a 150% price increase in a matter of weeks) and on a buy one get one free offer. Bizarrely, Ocado had them on a buy 3 for £4 offer. If you want to shop properly now you need a smart phone and a calculator.

Resizing products is anoter bugbear. Innocent smoothies used to come in 1l containers. Now they come in 750ml and 1.25l sizes. No doubt this was done to give the consumer more choice. But I no longer know how much they’ve put the price up by. And they are constantly on a multibuy offer so you can never just buy one anyway.

Have a look at the ingredients of Pringles. I would not eat them if I they were free. I don’t know why people are so fond of processed food.

Raymond Sweeney says:
16 January 2012

I love shopping in LIDL or ALDI. The checkout person can chechout 5 people in the same time it takes in ASDA to checkout 1 person. LIDL, ALDI have a marvellous system whereby customer places his trolly on the right hand side of checkout. Staff put the checked out item straight into trolly. There is a wide shelf running the width of the store 2 meters from the checkout. Here a customer can pack his bags at his ease without delaying the checkout queue; he can also sort his money and put it away. Why won’t the other supermarkets adopt this simple system of German efficiency? In ASDA the checkout staff seem to be doped, they are so slow. I paid for my goods in Sainsburys before I packed, so that the attend could check out the next customer without me causing delay. The attendant refused to start checking out the following customer until l had left, even though I told her go ahead. Cheers for LIDL, ALDI!

I go into LIDL for one or two items if have the cheek to use their car park when visiting my bank. The queues are usually long and often only one checkout is manned. It is the worst supermarket I know in this respect. I have used LIDL stores when travelling round the country, and they have been much better. I’m glad that LIDL works better for you.

Ken Grahame says:
5 April 2012

I’m getting REALLY tired of the “yo-yo” prices at ASDA. I’m a very “stable ” shopper – buying more or less the same items each week, but I don’t buy the two main items that traditionally move up and down a great deal – namely meat, (I’m a veggie), or vegetables (they are so often of doubtful quality, and rarely last more than a day or two – so I get these from the local market). Nevertheless, it’s impossible to budget accurately because so many prices now rocket up and down. Just one example – the packs of cat food I buy see-saw between £3 (on “rollback”), and £4.28 – and they switch between these two widely differing prices ALL THE TIME – for month after month. The last jump up lasted less than a week, before being “rolled back” again.
Well ASDA, I’m getting the measure of you now, and items like these – along with toothpaste, hair colour, loo paper, whiskey, sandwich spread – and many others, I now buy in bulk during their cheap weeks, and don’t buy at all when the price shoots back up 20, 30, 40% or whatever.

I agree about ASDA and its “yo-yo”Prices its not often i shop there now since we now have a Local Aldi .I recently noticed Aldi have a Clever way of upping prices e;g;Week 1 Carrots 75p per Kilo Week 2 Carrots on Offer at 39p per Kilo week 3 Carrots 79p per Kilo.Yesterday i challenged the Store Manager a small Swede the size of an Orange at 75p he replied i will report it to my Area Manager.Aldi have no Customer feedback site only a Postal Address.Tesco do price there’s properly shrink wrapped but expensive compared with Aldi.ASDA same price as Tesco at £1 each no wrapping.

I would have to say my biggest bugbear would be when pointing out a pricing “mistake” to a Tesco employee, their stock answer if “all prices are set by head office”. Almost as if they couldn’t care.

I just wish it wasn’t the closest by miles.

David says:
24 May 2012

Good Morning All

I shop at Sainsbury and if I am unhappy I e-mail Justin King direct.
He ,or his team will reaspond and deal with all your concerns.
If we all use this system we can monitor their many tricks on Own Brands Etc

It does work ,try it.

Do you think it is a clever idea for us all to contact the Chief Exec of a company if we are unhappy about something, David?

Annabelle says:
25 November 2012

If unit pricing is statutory, why do Holland and Barrett maintain that it is not requiredd and do not unit price accordingly.??