/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Supermarket prices – can you compare apples with apples?

According to the Panorama special ‘The Truth About Supermarket Price Wars’ it seems a lot of the time you can’t. And many of you have joined us in criticising supermarkets’ confusing product prices.

When we last wrote about confusing prices on supermarket product labels, Terry said:

‘I’m a Chartered Accountant so I feel comfortable with numbers and I’ve noticed this “marketing scam” by Tesco’s, Sainbury’s and Asda of late. I normally can’t be bothered to calculate what the best deal is.’

But many of you disagreed with Terry and thought along the lines of Richard:

‘To me it’s simple – take the mini bananas and weigh them on the scales usually provided, then you will have the price per kg for both items – the choice is easy.

‘At least it was when I taught Everyday Maths at school. Has the standard of “sums” dropped that low? I don’t think so, though the level of laziness has grown. I’ve never been that busy that I couldn’t spend a minute literally to check…’

Unfortunately, it’s often not a case of every day maths. Particularly when you have to compare something like clementines at £2.89 per kilogram with clementines at £1 for six.

Getting to the bottom of confusing supermarket prices

As Richard points out, scales are usually provided, but should you really have to use scales to tell which product is cheaper? There are a number of other reasons why supermarkets have to sort out their product pricing:

1. Older people, or those with learning difficulties, can not be expected to do the calculations required to work out which is the cheaper item.

2. People with young children in tow don’t have time to do these calculations, even if they are able to.

3. There can be several types of the same product (sometimes up to 62 types of jam) – the human brain just isn’t capable of storing the amount of information required to calculate which is cheaper if the unit pricing isn’t consistent. And even if you are up to it, this could significantly increase shopping time.

4. Furthermore, as Panorama showed, prices are often displayed in such a way as to make shoppers gloss over a product’s unit price. Shouldn’t it be the supermarkets’ responsibility to clearly display the unit price so that comparisons can be made quickly and easily?

We’ve had lots of examples of supermarket labelling issues sent in by readers, some of which you can see at www.which.co.uk/pricing, so we know there’s a problem and we want supermarkets to fix it.

If you watched Panorama earlier in the week, did it change your mind or confirm your thoughts about how supermarkets price their products? Do you get frustrated by confusing supermarket prices, or is this issue just a load of hot air?


Unfortunately the only thing I leant from it was the Consumer Proctection against unfair trading 2008 act. the rest I already knew or was aware of. I have tried to point out some if not all of those things to my local tesco. But now I won’t put up with the we have over 24k products in store you should expect the odd mistake, as I will now point out that even 1 mistake is breaking the law. And they do it so frequently, they’re particularly good at using different units in the price per unit. 12 and 36 packs of jaffa cakes ( no weight on the box) price per cake, the 24 pack ( weight is there) priced per 100 grams, and without knowing if they’ve used the same cakes in that its impossible to compare.


Compared with the many complicated issues discussed on this forum, the price comparison should be easy to resolve with a bit of cooperation from the large supermarkets. All shelf price labels should give the price per kg, irrespective of whether goods are loose or bagged. If there is an offer, the offer price should also show the price per kg.

I’m less concerned about special offers. My immediate reaction is suspicion that the price may actually have risen. As the Panorama programme points out, it is complicated by manufacturers labelling products (e.g. larger pack, better value). If you have the price per kg then ignore the special offer labels.

Perhaps Which? should challenge the big supermarkets to give the goods away free if customers find a mistake or a dishonest statement. That would focus some minds and generate good publicity for any supermarket that is up to the challenge.


Tesco’s already give a 10% bonus when refunding money that’s their mistake. Like selling an item with the price printed on the packaging yet still charging their own price. You’ve never seen a shop assistant move so fast to remove the offending items.


Thanks William. I did not appreciate that this still applied, since I have not been offered this bonus when I have reported errors in the last couple of years.

At one time Tesco would give free goods to customers who had been charged incorrectly, but that was a few years ago.


It’s true that only one mistake is breaking the law (thanks William). The trouble is that the law is not as simple as it seems and this makes it difficult to spot mistakes and then take legal action. I like Wavechange’s idea of finding creative ways to challenge supermarkets when mistakes are made. We are certainly looking at the best way to do this. Keep the comments coming!


I think the point I failed to get across, is when I point out the same mistake on more than one occasion over a period of time (I would at least try and give them the chance to correct it, knowing full well they won’t). Like I have done with my Jaffa cakes example. I can then start quoting the law to them and the second time I need to do that then I’d inform Trading standards. Luckliy for Tesco’s there’s about a million and one other things I’d rather be doing than doing the quality control for them (and not being paid to do it).


I think that a lot of people are in the same boat and do not have the time or the knowledge to go even as far as you have William. The system needs to be simpler to understand and easier for action to be taken.

Jimbo says:
8 December 2011

This time last year it was reported that supermarket profits has risen by 6% over the previous 6 months. This coincided with an increase in a particular type of offer; the one where you can buy 2 items which are individally priced at, say, £4, for £7. Another would be 3 items individually priced at £4, for £10. I am certain that the proper selling price for these items is £3.50 and £3.33 respectively. This means if you only want 1 of the items you are effectively being penalised 50 pence or 67 pence. It’s my submission that this is so profitable that it is the reason for a huge increase in the number of these offers.