/ 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?


I think what is going on in the UK is a Scandal.I do not think they would get away with these Rip-offs in Germany as i understand Germany is much tougher on trading than the UK.If i am in Asda or Aldi lidl and the ques are big i do like the foreigners now and shout out can we have someone on the tills please.I think that the Post-office is the worst offender for that end of months when people pay there Car Tax.It appears that Tesco are making a lot of CONS or mistakes as they call them reading all these comments.Checkout you’re local Quality Save they are beating the big supermarkets on Prices.Iceland’s do well on their percentage of fish in a box or bag.Much better than YOUNG’S Brand who only give you about half a box the rest is made up of all kinds of stuff.Half a Box of Fish should be half price.

Maureen says:
17 June 2012

This has surely opened up a hornets nest and I sincerely hope that these cheating supermarkets get duly STUNG BADLY. It is about time that Trading Standards jumped on them all very heavily. I seldom shop at Tesco now and go to Lidl, but even their prices have gone up and is nowhere near as cheap as it used to be.
I agree with Malc Moore, Germany would not put up with this, but this is England and we put up with anything stupidly, as we have wet people in charge of the affairs in this country and they are ALL the same. I would love to be behind you Malc when you shout for service, that really would make my day. I might just try to pluck up the courage to do it myself one day, then think of you if it works!!

R.B.H says:
18 June 2012

I have commented a couple of times and read every other comment posted. The ball is really rolling now. I hope(and expect)’which’ being the consumer champion is not doing this for a giggle, and will be taking up the cudgel on our behalf, although i agree that governments of all denominations do see us as a soft touch and only give lip service at election times.

Perhaps( WHICH could ask Mr.Milliband) to take on the PM at PMs Question time about all the Rip offs allowed to go on at Supermarkets although i expect vast majority of MPS never been inside a Supermarket plus i bet a lot have shares in them so it would be a conflict of interest.If their Golf Clubs operated offers like Supermarkets they would be very angry.There are some right Scrooges in the house and a lot in the House of Lords too and that’s a FACT.

Hi RBH and Malc Moore – you’re right, we do want to keep working on this issue as we think it’s really important that consumers get clear and consistent information before they put something in the trolley. One of the key things that will help this is if we can get better unit pricing information on food – so all food is priced per unit, and easily comparable.

If you want to help us persuade supermarkets and the government that this info needs to be added to food packaging, please do help us out by signing our pledge here:


Hi Nikki,
Good luck with the campaign. I’ve not seen it before, so maybe plug it on twitter and/or facebook.

And just another small suggestion. “consistent unit pricing – all foods to give the unit price by kilogram or litre”

Sometimes kilogram or litre aren’t the most appropriate unit price, e.g. tea bags, jaffa cakes , no doubt the list is endless.

I’d rather see “consistent unit pricing – all products to give the unit price using the same units for the same type of product” as that will cover things like toilet rolls, washing powder etc etc.

And I assume its not just food type supermarkets that you’re hoping to bring into line, DIY chains could probably benefit from this tidy up too. Again I’m sure there are other types of stores that could be cleaned up.


Firstly the dates that the ‘full’ price was on sale should be displayed with ALL discounted prices, for food or other items.
The full price must have been in use in the premises displayed, not used at one branch and then discounted at every branch.
The sale or reduced price should not be available for longer than the full price.

Greg says:
28 June 2012

Just ignore the ‘offer’… look at the price of the thing you want to buy.
Is it a price you are prepared to pay?
Is it the volume of product that you need?
Is the product of the quality you require?
If you can answer ‘yes’ to all 3 questions, then buy. If not, then don’t.

Everyone should remember 2 things when entering a supermarket…
i) the supermarket’s ONLY role is to part you from your money – and they employ some very clever psychology to achieve this – the fact that you end up with some ‘stuff’ that you didn’t have previously is merely incidental
ii) very few things you buy have an intrinsic ‘value’ – anything is only ‘worth’ what someone is prepared to pay for it – if you think something is too expensive for you, then don’t buy it

It seems its not only Supermarkets are Running Rackets Argos too.I looked at a sewing machine it said Sale Price £149.99 previous Price £199.99 then in tiny print this item was £99.99p but it did not say when or for how long so i E-Mailed Argos Customer services who telephoned me and told me this item had been on Sale for 2 DAYS last November& 2 Days in February i have posted this on here because many supermarkets do sell electrical goods.I think most would agree this is a real Scandal 2 Days in 1 month and 2 Days in another then double the Price and bring it down as a Sale Price.Greg you are Correct in what you say about Psychology in supermarkets.Our Trading Laws are Joke.They must employ some very Clever Solicitors to make such a Joke of our Trading Laws.

Oh, mysupermarket is now showing a graph of a products price over the last 6/9/12 months with the details of an individual product. Although it seems the graph is based on a weekly snapshot of prices.

Shame I can’t add a screenshot.

Tesco have The Fabulous Bakin’ Boys 4 Lemon and White Choc muffins on offer at £1.00 down from £1.60, yet according to the graph the previous price was 80p and it was that for over a month, its showing £1.60 on 13/05/2012 and before that was 80p again. So on the face of it not such a special offer.

Tesco again 🙁
Cathedral City Extra Mature Cheddar now £2.25 was £4.50 yet according to the little price graph the previous price was £2.85 and at no time in the last 12 months has the price even managed to get above £4.38

Tesco again 🙁
Friji Banana Milkshake 80p from £1.20 yet according to the nice price graph on mysupermarket the previous price was actually 60p, the price before that £1.00 then 60p And you’ve got to go back almost 6 moths to see a price of £1.20. With various prices in between.

13-nov-2011 they were 60p
27-nov-2011 £1.20
4-dec-2011 80p
18-dec-2011 £1.00
1-jan-2012 £1.20

very naughty

My latest report is ASDA selling Braeburn apples the size of Golf Balls or Crab Apples at Normal Price of £1.65p.Per Kilo. Poor small Apples should be sold at a Lower Price I took it up with the dept Manager she said Apples are bought by weight not size.I like the little Apples she must have been a size 7 or 8 Tops.Its poor that there is no check between the grower in the shop.Our Farmers get all kinds of checks and cannot get away with poor food.I have seen with my own eyes women look at the size and majority tut shake their head and walk away.I said to Dept Manager they only good for small children’s Lunch boxes.I failed to agree with her.I have E-mailed my complaint as yet NO REPLY!. Car dealers cannot shortchange a Customer but Supermarkets certainly do.It costs little to employ someone to do spot checks on Produce.

Sue says:
8 July 2012

Just back from Tesco where 500ml Dettol anti-bac surface cleaner seemed to be on 2 offers in different aisles. I bought it half-price (allegedly) at £1. But in the next aisle it was displayed with lots of other cleaning products on a 3 for £5 offer. Its annoying that you have to keep your wits about you in supermarkets and always be on the look-out for their next “scam” why cant they just be honest with us?

Up date on Argos Post 28th of June the sewing machine came up on an on-line Advert yesterday Priced at £119 it said its a Sale price normal price £199.99p yet they have been advertising it at £149.99 it seems Argos pluck prices out of the sky for normal prices perhaps its another 2 day Con.

Steve says:
12 July 2012

I have suffered all of the points mentioned so far. When I complained about misleading pricing in Morrison’s the manger told me in wasn’t a conspiracy. I think from what I have seen here it most certainly is.

I would like to raise another point. A lot of supermarkets show the price per unit for a single item.
e.g. 95.6p per 100g
However they then show a reduced price/offer price 2 for £2 etc. on the item but do not show the unit price for the offer. This makes comparing the special price with similar none-offer items even more difficult.
When I do the maths on this I often find a smaller none-offer item is still cheaper per unit than the offer item.

James says:
12 July 2012

When are some supermarkets going to stop artifically inflating the price of certain brands of wine, in order to sell them later at “half price”? These wines are never worth £9. 99 yet they sit there on the shelves for a couple of weeks in order to meet TDA requirements only to be later reduced as a ‘special offer’ to £4.99 , which is all they are worth.

Once again 400grm Tins of Princess tinned Meat Meals like Chicken Curry.Chilli-con-cone etc;etc are back up to £1-78per tin i think that supermarkets have guys playing Snakes and Ladders with food prices swinging so wildly although it may be that with a lot going on holiday the will come back after their 2 weeks in the Sun and think oh the prices must have gone up while we were on holiday.It sure is strange Asda Charge so much because one can buy the same Tin of Chicken Curry for 74pence at a smaller supermarket.I don’t buy them now i make up a few meals and Freeze them i know whats in them less fat no added salt or sugar altogether much healthier.

John Stears says:
10 August 2012

How can Tesco justify Gordons Gin 1 litre on special offer at £18 when the previous week it was £15? The staff couldn’t answer, no member of management was available to speak with me and Tesco Customer Service have declined to respond to my e mail. Possibly because they had sent out £3 off vouchers during the same week so not really a “special offer” after all, especially if you were not one of the lucky ones to get a voucher.

I f i was to report ASDA price changes on tinned food it would only be me posting they change almost Daily.The latest scam to catch my eye was SPAM in chilled food isle Was£1.50p now £1.90 Special offer 2 for £3.00 no good to the many single buyers or couples where only one person likes it.

Colin says:
22 August 2012

Saw 6 apricots in my local co op. Pack stated “half price” now £2 weight 320 grams or 11.287 lb so that makes price offer £2. 85 per lb or the original price a whopping £5.70. In the same parade of shops the local greengrocer had them for sale at the usual price of £1.20 per lb. So much for the CO Op and all its claims to be a “fair trader” and above the profiteering competition. Thats only one of the many such CO OP “deals” I find like this . Seems they have truly joined the capitalist bandwagon and sold out there founding values.

Lucky to have a trader who sells by weight, I find some fruits (usually peaches, nectarines and the like) mostly seem to be sold by the item these days, even in markets and greengrocers.

Colin says:
22 August 2012

Sorry can you please read there as their. Its a bit early in the morning.

Oscar. says:
1 September 2012

I do all my shopping at Morrisons because they are the easiest to park at. However, for years I’ve been having a battle with them over their ‘special multi buy offers’ which go through the till every so often at the full price. When I spot this I have to waste another 10/15 minutes at their customer service desk trying to get my money back. With the sophisticated IT systems supermarkets now have I cannot see how this keeps happening. I gave up complaining to the manager long ago.

@Oscar, I suspect that like most companies operating in the UK, the head people aren’t computer people, and therefore don’t understand how to utilise them properly. And more importantly, any cash driven company will probably look upon any IT department as a cash draining entity in their quest for even more profits, so they won’t be investing in the hardware or people properly. Its the add old adage, you pay peanuts you get monkeys.