/ 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?

Comments
Guest
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.

Guest
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!.

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Guest

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.

Guest

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.

Guest
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.

Guest
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.

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Guest

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.

Alice

Guest
Tobykenobi says:
24 October 2012

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

Guest
Malc.Moore says:
27 November 2012

ASDA Special offers not always an offer Tined Princess Chilli-con-carne priced at 2 fo£2-00 yet at a smaller supermarket they have the same Tins of Pricess Range at 79p per tin the very same supermarket had 2 sizes 1 400g at 79p on the label it said 79p below £1.97per kilo same item smaller tin £4 per kilo oh how i wish i was a good Photographic snapper this really goes to show.You really can beat ASDA prices.

Guest
Malc.Moore says:
27 November 2012

Aldi poor when it comes to Pricing Bananas Buy a large pack it tells you price per kilo buy a small 3 pack the Price is in Gram mes Unfortunately most of us do not have Carol Vordermans Maths factor Brain why cant they just have both per kilo?.I suppose its same old story Yeah put the price on item but its a smaller packet so make it more expensive the Average customer will not notice Sn icky tatics.I doubt if they get away with it in Germany!.

Guest
marjiliz says:
29 May 2017

You’ve only got to move the noughts to switch between grams and kilos, hardly rocket science.

Guest
Wendy says:
7 December 2012

Reggae Reggae sauce on sale in Tesco today, 07/12/12. A pallet of the product is displayed at the end of the isle and the outer box states £1.
The £1 has been cut out on one side of the box (leaving the £1 on the other side) and an A4 size POS has been stuck over the cut out stating £1.69 reduced to £1.20 – save 49p.
I have complained to Tesco who are contacting the relevant store, however, I assume the supplier also things the product is being sold at £1, maybe Tesco have a load sitting in their warehouse after the awful bbq season and are trying to recoup some storage costs. Cant believe they can be so blatant in leaving the POS on the side of the box and isnt UP pricing of product in such a manner illegal. After all the previous price was surely £1 and not £1.69.

Guest
Wendy says:
7 December 2012

Another great offer in Tesco today. 3 single tins of Branston Baked Beans for £1 and 4 tins, prepacked, are £2.25.

Profile photo of william
Guest

As reported on BBC Watchdog this morning, the supermarkets were contacted this week after we found “Bigger Pack, Better Value Packs” still weren’t always the best value even after they’d agreed to follow the new OFT guidelines last week after being warned 2 years ago about breaking the rules and getting away with it. The replies from the supermarkets give the impression that before long they’ll be no “Bigger Pack, Better Value Packs” on the shelves as the manufacturers are being told by the supermarkets to remove that working. Score another point for the supermarkets at our expense.

Profile photo of dead eye dicky
Guest

Not a great example but typically stupid. Go to
http://www.mothprevention.com/clothes-moths/moth-sprays.html?gclid=CODx5_37mbQCFSTLtAod5S0ABQ
(That should all be on one line). to see this:-
Protector C Trigger Spray 1 Litre
Regular Price: £10.95
Special Price: £10.96

Not that special!

Guest

Can we trust Supermarkets? Of course not. They are always spouting about how they have their best customer interests at heart. Shoppers know full well they simply lie through their teeth. I now shop at other outlets such as markets and small independent shops where many are in fact cheaper and often better quality.

Guest
Malc.Moore says:
27 January 2013

Aldi Putting Prices UP most Recently Fresh Carrots now Priced at 79p per Kilo up 4p from previous week Sainsburys Price of Bags of Potatoes have Risen to£2.50per bag. Aldi Gorton MANCHESTER Store were Charging 49p per KILO Last Monday on the same day Urmston Manchester were charging 75p per Kilo.A staff member told me Aldi Gorton must have over ordered hence the Lower price.No way can one Verify or Disclaim his Reply but the price was on the BAG.That must add weight to Des above who says Shoppers know full well they simply lie through their teeth. I prefer the smaller supermarket because they do not move items around so much.Shopping at ASDA is like a Treasure Hunt you never know where to find the items you want to buy they are moved so often all so you look more and spend more.

Guest
Andrew Horne says:
30 August 2013

Safeway are still at it. 100 g of Carvery Breaded Dry Cured Ham £1. ie £3 for 300g.

Guess what… 120g at £2 with a 2 for £3 offer. ie £3 for 240g.

Guest
Josquine says:
21 February 2015

I try very hard not to think in terms of offers, etc. Just – is the price I am being asked to pay reasonable for what I am getting? We all love a bargain, but in the end it comes down to what we can afford and what we want to pay. Absolute price is the only criterion. That’s my ideal, though I’m not saying I always manage to stick to it.
When it comes to comparing similar items, EVERYTHING should be priced at so much per unit of weight, no argument.

Guest
John Sutton says:
7 May 2015

Tesco had a much trumpeted ‘now even cheaper at Tesco’ promotion. This included Nescafe Original, both regular and decaffeinated, in 200g jars. At that time the price went down to £3.98 (although the shelf edge price at a nearby Tesco Superstore remained incorrectly priced higher for the decaff for some weeks but was correctly charged at the checkout as £3.99).

However, the Tesco website and the shelf price now shows the regular Nescafe Original and Original Decaf in 200g jars priced at £4.98 and £5.29 but with the flash on the website saying ‘Still Cheaper’. I don’t think a short lived price reduction warrants this claim when the price increases by £1 and more. Do you?

Guest
Tony Pitt says:
9 March 2017

Brilliant offer just received by email from Tesco. It includes Nestle Cheerios Cereal 600G “Half Price Was £1.00 Now £1.59”. I can send a picture of the email if required. They must think I’m stupid.

Profile photo of Lauren Deitz
Guest

Hi Tony, we’d love to see the picture. Our email is conversation.comments@which.co.uk