/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Can you trust supermarket special offers? We investigate…

Food prices can

Have you ever been baffled by the seemingly endless succession of BOGOFs, rollbacks and 50% extra free deals adorning supermarket shelves? More to the point, do you trust them to actually save you money?

When we last devoted a Convo to this thorny topic, we asked whether you thought special offers were designed to provide the average shopper with good value. And cynicism was rife in your comments:

‘In their “home baked” section is a “promotion” to buy “three items for £1.50″. This included a shelf full of items priced at only 35p each! I could buy more than FOUR for their “special price” for three!’, said an outraged Ken Grahame.

‘I find it very confusing and time-wasting trying to work out which products are included in any offer, which is often NOT clear’, said Mrs A Johnson.

‘Supermarket pricing policy is now designed to increase margins primarily through confusing their “loyal” customers into buying bargains that are not bargains’, commented the frustrated Victor Meldrew Fan.

Biggest ever look at special offers

Clearly the problem is still rife, and you’re right to be cynical. In our biggest ever look at special offers, we reveal a whole range of tactics designed to make bargains look unmissable when, in fact, we don’t think they were ever really bargains at all.

Some notable examples include:

  • Products that always seemed to be discounted, with a ‘was’ price that we never saw during our tracking. Aquafresh MilkTeeth Toothpaste was sold at ‘was £1.74, now £1.15’ at Asda. The highest price it was sold at prior to the offer, during our tracking period, was £1.17.
  • Products that increased in price just a few days before being sold ‘on offer’. Tesco’s blueberries increased in price from £1.80 to £3.99 for 14 days before going on ‘offer’ for £1.99.
  • Multibuys where the products were more expensive per item when they were on offer than when they weren’t. Asda doubled the price of a single Muller Yoghurt from 30p to 61p at the time they went on to offer a multibuy at ‘10 for £4’. They went back to 30p when the multibuy offer ended. This meant they were more expensive per yoghurt when you bought 10 under the offer than when you bought one before or after it.
  • And products that were on offer for longer than they were at the higher price. Tesco sold Becks beer for 190 days at a discounted price, but only 70 days at the higher price.

We examined a year’s worth of data from independent shopping website mysupermarket.co.uk

The way forward for pricing

We’re calling on supermarkets to make their pricing clearer. We want them to show clear unit pricing – the price by weight, volume or unit – so that you can easily compare what you’re buying. We’re also putting pressure on them to sort out special offers so that they’re exactly that – special.

What would you do if you were in charge of supermarket pricing? How long would you say something had to be at the higher price before it went on special offer? Or would you just ban special offers altogether, and charge consumers a fair price all year round?

Malc.Moore says:
1 September 2012

Its not only Supermarkets that do not invest in IT. B&Q stock control is extremely poor if an item is not available at your local store they check on their website if they find what you want they still have to phone up to see if its available 9 times out of 10 its not if you get lucky you have to travel to collect they do not transport items between stores.When i asked why it takes a staff member so long to find out why it takes so long to find an item at another store the reply was we all are on computer 1 per store pathetic as they get Computers at Trade not what Jack or Jill has to pay plus they get Tax breaks for such items.

Malc.Moore says:
1 September 2012

At ASDA i have noticed so called Baking Potatoes in a 4 pack they were all medium sized Potatoes yet charged at a Premium Price.I always understood a Baking Potato to be a Large Potatoes another supermarket Con? .If you were buying a HOT Baked Potato from a street vendor and given a medium sized Potato you would soon complain!.


A good potato for boiling, roasting or chipping is not necessarily ideal for baking. Selecting baking potatoes involves choosing a suitable variety and skin free from blemishes because many people eat this. Different people want different sizes. I would not thank you for a large baking potato because I tend to eat them as part of a meal rather than having a baked potato with some filling.


Homebase are dreadful for this – we bought some Loft insulation from them for a certain price, but when we went back a few days later to buy some more the price had risen quite significantly. When my husband queried this he was told by an assistant (as if he was doing him a favour) to come back at the weekend as there would be a 20% off everything promotion. There was indeed – but the 20% off still left the price far higher than when we had purchased the item originally. All in the space of a week. And apparently that is perfectly legal.

Malc.Moore says:
5 October 2012

I am very pleased i now have an Aldi store locally as they do not put prices up&down like ASDA who have gone back on their public statement saying they were ending muti-buys&bog-offs as well as Aldi i now use sainsburys for a few items but in general sainsburys are more expensive.One item Frozern Fish whichever brand one buys why oh why such Big;Big Boxes for 4 Fish steaks??????.It takes up massive space in Food Freezers a complete waste of cardboard.I shall only go to Asda occasionally now who charge Top price on Branded tin Soups such as Hinze Big Soup and Princes Tinned Curries i also save on Fuel not having to drive so far.

Kevan Francis says:
18 October 2012

Its not just supermarkets that need looking at, I bought 3 for 2 Sensodyne Repair and Protect toothpaste today from Boots store. I fell for it, I looked at the size of the box!
I thought they were easily 100ml size at £4 .20 each so 3 for 2 looked a bargain.
It was’nt until I got home and unboxed a tube it dawned on me how small the tube was along side the box, even worse remove the cap look at the tapered tube and you see how much waste there is in the size of the box to transport the tube. Then I noticed they were only 75ml tubes.
What a rip off !
Maybe Which could find the time to look into Boots 3 for 2 offers and Sensodyne’s reasons for adjusting tube sizes willy nilly.


Hi Kevan,

We’ve actually looked at excess packaging on a number of occasions. Last time we went round supermarkets with a trading standards officer and found fifty items that were over packaged. Thanks for letting us know your example.


Tobykenobi says:
24 October 2012

Can we also have unit pricing on ‘special offer’ labels please?

Malc.Moore says: