/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Our super-complaint on dodgy supermarket pricing practices

Put an end to misleading pricing

From dodgy multi-buys to shrinking products – it’s time to shelve misleading supermarket pricing tactics for good. That’s why we’ve deployed one of our most powerful legal weapons – a super-complaint.

We’ve been alerting retailers to misleading pricing tactics for the last seven years, and yet dodgy offers still remain on supermarket shelves.

Many retailers are creating the illusion of savings that don’t exist, which in turn mislead people into buying products they may not have chosen if they knew the full facts.

Our supermarket pricing super-complaint

Enough is enough. We’re now using one of the most powerful legal weapons in our armoury – a super-complaint – to demand action from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

Which? has legal powers under the Enterprise Act 2002 to formally raise matters that may be significantly harming consumers’ interests with regulators. It’s a power we only use after a great deal of work to exhaust every other possible route to change businesses practices. The CMA now has 90 days to respond to our super-complaint (PDF 4.7Mb).

Millions lost to dodgy offers

With £115bn spent on groceries and toiletries in 2013, we could be collectively losing out to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds, even if only a very small proportion of offers are misleading. Some of the dodgy pricing practices we’ve raised with the CMA include:

  • Confusing and misleading special offers.
  • A lack of easily comparable prices because of the way unit pricing is being done.
  • Shrinking pack sizes without any corresponding price reduction.

What’s more, we’re concerned about how supermarket price matching works in the context of these dodgy pricing practices.

The cumulative impact of all these different pricing tactics means it’s virtually impossible for you to know whether you’re getting a fair deal. This is particularly true when prices vary frequently, when you’re in a rush or if you’re buying numerous items of relatively low value.

We want an end to misleading pricing tactics and for all retailers to use fair pricing that people can trust. If you agree, please sign our petition. And if you’ve spotted any pricing tactics that really wind you up, share them in the comments below.

Comments
Guest
Cymru2010 says:
1 June 2015

Another example of shrinking products spotted today.
Andrex 18 roll toilet tissue. I have previously bought 240 sheets per roll for a pack price of £7
Today I see it is now 221 sheets per roll, and priced at £6.84
This makes the pack size 8% smaller and 6% more expensive per 100 sheets.

Guest
RobM says:
2 June 2015

Well, ‘wipe’ them off my shopping list then

Guest

A new four-pack of Andrex looks considerably smaller when placed alongside an older example because the sheet size has shrunk as well. Is nothing sacred?

Guest

‘Reputable companies’ that produce or sell to the general public are likely to become an endangered species soon. Maybe companies deal with other companies more fairly but that does not help the consumer.

Guest
Margaret Ross says:
28 August 2015

Underhand of Andrex. I will not buy this brand of toilet paper again. Customers have to be vigilant when buying “special offers”.

Guest
john owen jones says:
6 June 2015

Sainsburys. Its only trivial but they keep doing it. Own brand toilet paper 9 pack offer £3 18 pack £6.50. Tnen its back to £3.50 for 9 for a while.

Guest

Sorry John but your comment doesn’t make any sense

Guest
Sue Patterson says:
9 June 2015

Lucozade orange (one litre) for £1.00 a bottle in my co op, but in the chilled fridge (people buying quick snacks, lunch sandwich meal deals etc and particularly school children at dinner time where I live; special deal label says one 500 ml bottle of lucozade for £1.25 OR 2 bottles for £2. Just do the maths!

It’s not just ripping us off on handy size bottles but also the school kids easy targets for chugging 1L of high glucose drink for a quid before going back into school for the afternoon. Does Co-op care?

Guest
Laura says:
11 June 2015

Today I bought a 500ml bottle of Dove bath creme from Tesco in Gatwick, advertised at half price for £1.64 (was £3.29), but when I checked my receipt after I had left I noticed that I had been charged £3.90 for it! Even more than the supposed original price!

It is really infuriating to be mislead by false advertising this way! (And yes, I did double check that I had picked up the correct size relating to the offer)

Guest
Deborah says:
14 July 2015

On two occasions that I can recall, I have bought something that was supposedly on offer, only to find at the self-service that I didn’t get the discount. I had previously believed this to be an error on my part, but it appears from the magnitude of complaints in this section, that this is an ongoing issue. If I buy something for a discount, then that should be reflected in my receipt. Most of the time it is, but those two occasions were irritating. It has happened to me in Primark, when I had to pay a higher price because someone had slapped a discount sticker onto a piece of clothing (or two, actually) that hadn’t been registered with their till. I then looked foolish and a little suspicious in pointing to the discount sticker. Retail stores should get themselves in order.

Guest
Lou Denney says:
14 July 2015

I will not buy multiples as the price for one has usually been raised to make it more attractive to buy two. Most of my shopping is now done in Aldi, where they have no multi-buys, pricing is simple and transparent, the goods are of far better quality than other own brands, no reward cards, more staff who are better paid – you get my drift.
The few things I have to buy at other places, I find I have to examine prices in case it’s cheaper to buy two small ones than one big one or some such other rip-off

Guest
Gerry says:
14 July 2015

Exactly – that’s why Aldi have recently overtaken the mega-expensive Waitrose.

The big supermarkets hate single people, hitting them with horrendous surcharges for single items and excluding them from ‘Save £5 when you spend £40’ or whatever.

Yo-yo pricing is also endemic – the most brazen example must be Pimms No.1. The big boys sell it at £21 at the start of the year when it’s cold and dark simply so that they can slash the price with fake special offers in the summer. The ‘real’ price is less than half of that – Morrisons have it at £10 right now.

All power to Aldi & Lidl ! Their brands may be unknown, but they’re just as good, especially their tomato soup and tomato ketchup which are every bit as good as Heinz but vastly cheaper.

Guest
Margaret Ross says:
28 August 2015

I wish that I could shop in an Aldi store. In Stonehaven we have four Co-ops, all expensive with no option to shop elsewhere.

Guest
Maureen says:
14 July 2015

I’ve notice when I read the Argosy insert in various weekend newspapers, advertising their latest goods on sale, the small print underneath the item, often has “previously sold for ….”and this is frequently cheaper than they are now advertising it, so keep a watchful eye! It may not be the bargain you expect!

Guest
Nigel Snape says:
14 July 2015

a lot of everyday foods used to be sold in prescribed quantities laid in Weights and Measures legislation, such as bread and other everyday foods. the idea was that it made comparison easy and stopped producers reducing the size of their products and charging the same. Ok weghts are given and in larger shops a unit price must be shown, but in my view this was introduced at the demand of business Nader the pretext it was what the co numerous wanted and duly supported by government, Labour!, which stated it gave better consumer choice. A load of tosh.

Guest

On my last trip to the supermarket an elderly gentleman commented to me about the price of apples. We ended up between us trying to decipher the price difference between packaged and loose ones. The packaged apples he was buying at a straight £2 per bag [7 per bag] were unit priced whereas the loose ones I was buying were only sold by the pound or kilogram. I did consider weighing both the loose and the packaged ones but as they were of a different variety and size, neither of us was able to fathom which was the better buy.

He said he was not a member of Which? and so I proceeded to ask him if he had noticed the shrinking size of various other goods on the shelves selling at the same price before they were shrunk and I’m sure he thought I was joking!

Maybe Which? gained another member as a result of our encounter, but I guess I will never know.

Guest
Emma says:
14 July 2015

At asda I put a pack of prepacked potatoes or some such veg on their scales the one where you choose your product and it prints the sticker for you to pop on your bag the prepacked ones cost more per kg than the ones you choose yourself and I’ve sometimes found them to be slightly under the weight so your paying more for less

Guest

I compared the price per kilo of pre-packed bananas and apples with loose at the big four supermarkets, and the loose ones were cheaper in every case (details in this article here: http://www.staticwhich.co.uk/documents/pdf/p16-19_packagingtricks_r3-386043.pdf). That was just a snapshot though, so I’m not sure if that’s the case every time, although it’s interesting that you found the same thing, Emma.

Guest

This is not entirely surprising because someone else will be packing pre-packed produce for you. Even on supermarket wages, their time won’t come for free and neither will any packing materials that are used.

Guest

I have just been checking Waitrose website as this was the supermarket referred to in my above post and the said gentleman was considering purchasing their new brand ‘weather-blemished’ apples of South African origin apparently to help SA farmers to clear surplus stocks. Listed on the same website is a pack of minimum 7 Waitrose Braeburn apples @ £2.00 per bag, [origin not specified] exactly the same price as the pack of minimum 7 SA ‘weather-blemished’ ones. Question is, given a choice which ones would you choose, SA weather-blemished’ to help the SA farmers or Braeburn, [one assumes unblemished] at the same price? Common sense tells me that anything “blemished” ought to be the cheaper option.

Guest
Kim Marchant says:
14 July 2015

Prices shown next to items on receipt do not show discounted value. Discounts are shown at the bottom of the receipt and this makes it difficult to tell whether a discount has been properly implemented or is consistent with what was expected. Not infrequently, I have discovered that mistakes have been made of up to £5 on a weekly shop of £130 .

It seems that Energy providers, Home insurance provides and supermarkets use the same confusion tactic to trick customers into paying more than necessary.

Guest

Having recently shopped at a Continente shop in Portugal I am even more certain that our UK supermarkets are ripping us off. A good standard red wine, for example is under £1 (1.29 euros), butter at under 60 pence a half pound and even UK manufactured and sent to Portugal are anything up to 30% cheaper. Bearing in mind transport costs to Portugal are included shows how much we are being ripped off. My main whinge is the buy 2 for whatever price when just previously 1 item was less than half that price

Guest

We will learn if the Which? super-complaint has been successful very soon.

Fingers crossed please.

Guest

Hi

just to let you know, we published the results of the CMA’s investigation into our super-complaint earlier this morning. Here’s the link.

https://conversation.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/supermarket-price-deals-multibuys-super-complaint/

Guest

Well done!! Hope it leads to someone resolving this matter as we all hate getting ripped off

Guest
Jane M says:
21 July 2015

Just visited my local branch of Tesco – I nearly bought a refill packet of Kenco millicano coffee for £3 (85gm) until I noticed it was being sold at £3 for 100gm.!

Guest
Richard F says:
10 August 2015

Shelves full of ‘Vitamin Water’ at our Local Tesco in Worksop, all on ‘2 for £2’ (instead of £1.49 each), or so I thought.

Got to the checkout ‘£2.90 please’. Hold up? eh? Went back to the shelves, out of twenty odd lines of bottles, two lines werent in the offer. All identiical brading from same manufacturer, just a different colour. The two bottles I got, were from one of the ‘offer’ rows, but looked to have been moved from a ‘none-offer’ one. Could be staff, could be customers; I know which my money is on! In any event, surely the fact that there are so many in teh discount should mean that the ones NOT on discount should be prominet;y displayed?

Guest
Haggis says:
2 September 2015

Just been in Tescos and they are selling Hersheys Reeses Peanut Butter Cups 4 Pack 170G for £1.99 but the website and the in store ticket state this is £0.29 per 100g. Some mistake surely.

Guest
Clive Haines says:
23 September 2015

Sainsburys Bridgemead Swindon today Sept 23 Heinz Baked Beans 415g single tins 50p with next to them 4 packs at £2.60!!!! Prices were right at floor level so very difficult to check but still managed to photograph them. Have emailed Sainsburys Head Office to enquire why such deceitful tactics were being used. Looking forward to the response.

Guest

PAPER TOWELS…used to last several days. Now a day if lucky!
weaker paper, larger card roll so less paper. Less sheets
How mean can you get. Now you want us to pay for plastic bags.
RECYCLING SHOULD BE FOR THE PEOPLE!
support your customers not your corporate pockets. Don’t give me that charity drivel as though you get nothing out of it yourselves.

Guest

TESCO

Tilda Steamed Basmati Rice

79p each, OR, Any 2 for 2.50

Guest

And just in case anyone is interested, I ordered 1 at 75p and got charged £1.59 !!!

Guest

What really irritates me is when they tell you the price per kilo but a similar product next to it is in price per pound. So unless you have a calculator and want to start doing complicated calculations then you just roll your eyes and guess.

Guest

I have an on-going issue with my local Co-op supermarket. The staff habitually leave ‘special offer’ shelf tickets in place long after the offer has expired. There is actually an ‘expiry date’ shown on these tickets, but it’s in the smallest font possible, and even customers with 20/20 vision would struggle to read (or even notice) the date.
Hence customers are charged full price for items that they have assumed to be ‘on offer’ … and complaining about this ‘tactic’ hasn’t improved the situation at all!

Guest

When comparing prices of food by weight, often you’ll see “price per 100g” on one brand and “price per kg” on another. Ok, for me it’s an easy sum to do – but it’s not obvious to everyone. Also you see “price per unit” on others. Not always clear.

Guest

I’ve noticed that Sue. Very sneaky the way they price things sometimes by weight, sometimes by unit, to make it as confusing as possible. I take my phone calculator out…..

Guest

This should apply to the Wembley car park operator, change prices at last minute, without notice but still advertising cheaper rates online, you don’t know you are being ripped off until you pay on exit, they change the tariffs that fast the gate men get mixed up to what small tariff table to show you when you complain, even when. I emailed the company they emailed me yet a different one again, but still refused a refund or partial after I proved I met one of the refund conditions

Guest
Dan Main says:
23 December 2015

my favourite, spotted in Morrisons. £1 for 200g of mini portobello, or £1 for 250g chestnut mushrooms. same product, same price, smaller packaging. https://twitter.com/alifeinfood/status/402824181001113600

Guest

Tesco have changed the delicatessen olive pots by about 20% and when challenged stated it was to do with the lids but the volume has changed dramatically. I had been monitoring weight of olives in the old pots and now the new ones and the difference is almost 20%

Guest
Levity says:
19 January 2016

At Tesco today I noticed Radox shower gel on ‘half-price’ offer at 95p instead of the previous price of £1-90. This did not seem right to me so a quick check on the ASDA website showed that their normal price is 90p. So Tesco were selling at a higher price than their competitor but claiming it was half-price. I later wondered, if I had bought one, would they have refunded the 5p at the till under their brand match scheme? Similarly I noticed that four-packs of Branston Baked Beans were on ‘half-price’ offer at £1-27 instead of £2-55 whereas they are normally £1-78 at ASDA. I took photos of the shelf labels and can forward them it that would be useful.

Guest

It’s not just the pocket that suffers. It’s also your health. Here is a very common occurrence. You buy a small salad, a drink and some crisps say, as part of a “meal deal”. Before you buy you check the “traffic lights” for fat, salt and sugar content and it’s green lights all the way. “Hurrah! It’s healthy”, you think. You assume that this constitutes ONE meal. Not two, or three, or ten for that matter. (Can you see where I’m going with this?) You eat it all for your lunch. While you’re munching, you peruse the packaging more closely and realise that the “traffic lights” apply to HALF a salad. So it turns out that you have eaten twice the fat, salt and sugar you thought you were. The whole idea behind the “traffic light” system is that you can quickly see what you’re eating at a glance, not so that you can see what you could be eating if you starve yourself and eat half of a tiny salad, or even space it out over a week. And let me just say for the sake of comparison that I am not overweight or a big eater (5’3″ and 8 stone) so I don’t think my perspective is skewed in any way. They might just as well tell you what a 10th of a doughnut contains – that would make it sound really healthy!

Guest

I shopped at Tesco this morning. They were offering Bahlsen Schoko Leibnitz biscuitsat £1–fair enough, they’ve been £1 at the Co-op for momnths (Mind, you can buy what I think are exacrtly the same biscuits under a different name at Aldi for 75p.) My complaint is that Tesco were advertising the price of £1 as “49 p off £1 49p”. They’ve also been offerimg Isla Negra wines at a ‘half price’ which is only 50 p less than all the local shops are selling at–that’s been going on for months now and is probably over. The so-called £1 49p quote for SchokoLeibnitz is definitely new though.

Guest
n jones says:
10 May 2016

Sainsbury’s Crumpets x8 £0.50/unit £0.16/100g
Sainsbury’s Crumpets, Basics x6 £0.40/unit £0.06/ea

notice how the normal crumpets are priced per 100g and the value basics range are priced per crumpet instead. Take 6 of the normal crumpets and the price works out 2.5p cheaper than the “value”, basics range. I’m sure they didn’t do the different value systems to confuse anyone. Hmmm…….

Guest

I have just opened a new 340gm tub of Marvel dried milk and found that the tub is just over half full, the contents of the new full tub would fit in the empty 198gm tub that I was about to put in the recycling bin. What a scam, shame on Premier Foods for making it look like I was getting more for my money. I am sure that the contents will weigh 340gm but the hugely oversized container wastes material and implies that purchasers are getting more contents than they really are. The contents can’t settle and reduce in volume by around 40%.

Guest
Dewi Lewis says:
9 November 2016

Watch carefully the Tesco Brand Guarantee savings on 10 items or more on your bill.
They compare prices of all items that they can compare with other supermarkets and give you back the difference if less but deduct if any more.
Example: On 7/11/16 Tesco Baileys £15.00, Asda £12.00, therefore £3.00 saving. Robinsons Concentrated squash on offer £1.87, Asda £2.50 . On bill difference £0.63 deducted from £3.00 giving a saving of £2.37 saving.
Tesco pocket the £0.63 by ripping you off!
If you bought more than one Squash the £3.00 would be reduced by £0.63 each and could possible leave you with a positive extra charge.
Tesco are very clever at how “every little helps” them!

Guest

Here is a link to recently published guidance to businesses:
https://www.businesscompanion.info/sites/default/files/Guidance-for-Traders-on-Pricing-Practices-2016.pdf

Every little helps but I don’t think we will see the end of the games played by supermarkets. I feel that urgent action is needed to end various practices that make it difficult or impossible to discover the unit price of goods.

Guest

It is interesting to note what a consumer is regarded as for the regulations:
Average consumer
The material characteristics of an average consumer should be considered ‘including his being reasonably well informed, reasonably observant and circumspect.’
European case law suggests that social, cultural and linguistic factors should also be taken into
account”

Regarding certain deals the following seems fair and reasonable and we should judge offers against this sort of criterion.
Volume offers are price promotions that aim to demonstrate good value by reference to the volume, weight or amount of the product purchased, or the purchase of a combination of different products.
You should not use this type of price promotion unless the consumer is genuinely getting better value because of the offer. Care must be taken to ensure that any volume offer is not made to be unfair because better value was being offered before the volume promotion or for the same product elsewhere in your business.
The risk of these price promotions being unfair is increased if they are not easy to understand. You must ensure that the price promotion provides all of the material information that the consumer needs to understand it and that this information is provided in a clear, intelligible, unambiguous and timely manner. You should not take advantage of the fact that many consumers will not calculate for themselves whether your price promotion actually offers better value – for example, the price of a combination offer should be cheaper than the total cost of buying the same items separately.”

Guest
malcolm greenwood says:
20 April 2017

what about the supermarkets that leave old pricing labels on the shelves and then you dont know the price of the item you have bought till you get to the checkout all because the management /staff cant be bothered to replace the old price label of product that was on sale previously The supermarkets should be fined for this practice starting with the Rooley lane ASDA as it is the worst i have ever encountered