/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Clear the supermarket shelves of misleading multibuys

Special offer campaign labels

From daft special offers to dodgy discounts – does your supermarket send you off your trolley with its pricing tactics? Our latest Which? campaign is calling on the supermarkets to Make Special Offers Special.

I’m new to the Campaigns team at Which?, but over the last couple of weeks, with the help of our special offer guru Alice Rickman, I’ve begun to take the supermarkets to town over the not so special offers we’ve discovered in our latest investigation.

This included a well-known beer brand being sold at a higher price for just three days before being discounted, and an offer that would have been cheaper to buy off the shelf days later than part of the deal.

Misleading multibuys

Eight in 10 of people say they look out for offers in supermarkets, with most saying these deals help them to make the most of their budget. However, three in 10 have regretted buying products that you only bought because they were on offer. And two fifths believe that offers encourage us to buy products we don’t really need. To me, this indicates something is wrong with the way supermarket promotions are affecting our buying habits, and not necessarily in a positive way. What really grates for me though is that some of these special offers don’t even save us money.

There are three ways we can address this issue and the first is quite simply to ask the supermarkets to put an end to misleading special offers. We’ve alerted the key supermarkets that we’re looking for them to take action. We quizzed Asda, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s and Tesco on our findings and received a mixture of apologies and challenges to our findings.

Secondly, we need the Government to make the rules for special offers simpler, clearer and stricter. We’ll be in close contact with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, to make sure this happen.

Supermarket fined for breaking rules

And thirdly, we need tougher enforcement action to clamp down on rule breaking supermarkets. You may remember the case of the mispriced strawberries reported by Daphne Smallman back in 2011. Well, Tesco was fined when the courts heard that the offer ran for 14 weeks, whereas the higher price was available for a shorter length of time. This was in breach of Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs) and Tesco was found to not be playing by the rules.

Do dubious special offers irritate you when you’re shopping? Have you ever spotted a deal that’s too good to be true? We’d love your help convincing the supermarkets to take action and we’re keen to hear what dodgy discounts you’ve encountered down your supermarket aisle.


I never pay any attention to the previous price of goods stated by a retailer; it’s irrelevant. All that I care about is the current price. If I want to compare prices, then I compare with another current price from a different retailer, not historic prices.


In theory it would seem that historical prices are irrelevant, and only today’s prices compared to those of other shops are relevant. However, in practice, we go mostly to the shop that’s closest to us, and the historical price is a rough indicator of the likely future price, which helps us figure out whether it’s worth buying a product (especially a non-perishable one) at today’s price before it goes up again. I usually buy bottles of wine that are “half price”. I know full well that these bottles are only worth the price they are actually at, even if they are labelled “half price”. And I can tell they are only worth the low price I pay because they taste very mediocre. However, I am scared to buy a “full price” bottle of wine in case it’s actually worth £6 but temporarily priced at £12 so that it can be offered as “half price” when it goes back down to its normal price next week.


I disagree that the historical price is a rough indicator of the likely future price. If a price is falling, it could fall further; or it could rise again. A previous price doesn’t suggest anything, particularly if that previous price was just a spike.


A single previous price in isolation does mean nothing however a series of previous prices does provide a trend or benchmark.

In a distress purchase such as buying petrol on a an empty tank previous prices are irrelevant : )

I also occasionally use the press for instance to tell me if their has been a poor coffee bean harvest and what it is doing to spot prices. If it makes the normal financial press it will also tell you an effect on retail prices is expected.

Coffee stores particularly well : ) My largest purchase was when the Coop closed some stores and were selling 200 gramme jars of Douwe Egbert for the same price as 100 gramme jars – I assume overstocked. So 20+ jars and a 100% saving.


clint, wine does seem to be a great example of misleading marketing – not just in supermarkets but newsagents and corner shops. Rarely do you get genuine half price bottles. The wine with £10 meal deals from a well-known store is genuine value. However, we buy most of our wine from a “society” (see Which Local) where their 12 bottle cases for less than £6 a bottle offer very pleasant drinking. Hope this doesn’t break any guidelines. Please drink responsibly.


I never buy wine in British shops anyway, because of the ridiculous alcohol duty in this country which adds £2.40 to a bottle of wine. Living only two hours from Calais by car, I buy wine and beer in France and Belgium where I don’t have to pay this unreasonable tax.


A well known “society” has an outlet near Calais where you can not only benefit from the lower prices, but from the consistent quality of their wines. Not advertising – just based on satisfaction in a seller (or should that be cellar?) you can trust – and from many cynical comments in other conversations this is something to nurture. Bottoms up! (is that still PC?).


I used to use one such society and agree their selection of wines was always very good. However, it’s no longer convenient because there’s noone at home to take deliveries and no alternative place to leave a case. On the earlier subject of historical prices, in reply to NFH, you can actually see the relevance of historical prices by looking at the graphs at mysupermarket.co.uk. Choose any product at any supermarket, and most likely you will see a series of dips (lasting about two weeks every month) but these usually go back to the exact same “normal” price, which remains constant for about a year before going up by an inflationary amount. So, from this graph, I would deduce that historical prices are indeed a rough indicator of likely future prices.