/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Special offer? Don’t be misled by multibuys

Buy one get one free crossed out

We looked at 115 products, comparing 300,000 prices, and found that multibuy special offers aren’t always as good a deal as they seem. Are they just a supermarket tactic to sell you more than you need?

We looked at online shopping promotions at Asda, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose. We found that some multibuys wouldn’t save you any money at all. And overall, there often wasn’t a lot of difference between the multibuy and standard prices.

We also found a range of multibuys that were just plain daft. To give you one example, we found a pack of four tins of Heinz soup for £2.99 next to individual tins on multibuy for 80p each or four tins for £3.

You’re not sold on multibuys

Last time we wrote about multibuys here on Which? Conversation, you had strong views on the subject. Edward Crooks has been put off multibuys for life:

‘I used to buy a particular brand of paté from a well-known supermarket. It went missing from the shelves for about a week. When I saw it next the price had jumped from 59p to 85p for the same pack. Several weeks later it was on offer(!) at two packs for £1.50. I have never even looked at a multi offer again.’

Craig even thinks multibuys should be banned:

‘BOGOFs and multibuys should be curtailed or outright banned (as in other countries) because they are so wasteful, and unfair (and make my brain hurt when I try to work them out!).’

And it’s a debate that won’t be going away anytime soon. We’ve found that multibuys could be on the increase; the 115 products we looked at were on offer for a greater amount of time in the first half of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011.

Multibuys can cause multi-headaches

Not all the examples were straightforward price rises, but we still felt they could be misleading. Sometimes supermarkets yo-yo between multibuys and discounts. This means that a discounted product increases in price as it goes into a multibuy offer and is then discounted when the multibuy offer has finished.

In Asda, we found that Goodfella’s Deep Pan Baked Pepperoni Pizza more than doubled in price when it was on multibuy. The pizza’s original price was generally £1. On offer, its price increased to £2.68/£2.50 for one or £4.50 for two.

But this means that if you always take ‘advantage’ of the offer (multibuy or discount), the product nearly always costs the same. Some of the products we looked at did this for most of the year, rendering the ‘normal’ price pretty redundant. Over 365 days, Tesco and Sainsbury’s sold Nestle Munch Bunch Yogurt (4x100g) for either £1 on discount or two-for-£2 on multibuy. Whether you buy the product ‘on offer’ or not, the yogurts still cost around £1 a pack.

Do you believe that multibuys are worth stocking up on, or are you fed up of the sight of them?


Special Offers at Christmas time.
I have been pretty well organised this year and have most of my Christmas presents sorted but what it has enabled me to do, is visit more shops and compare offers and I have found the best chocolate offers this year are to be found in Marks and Spencer! they are doing a huge box of milk chocolates at half price £5.00. These are perfect for family sharing or to give a friend or good neighbour. Debenhams are offering boxes reduced from £25 to £12 whilst BHS are offering boxes at £15 and Tesco’s are the next best offer with their Continential Selection at £10 reduced by £5.

For Green & Black’s organic chocolate the best offer at the present time is Waitrose at £3.66 for a pack of 12 chocolate bars. tesco’s are selling at £4.50 and Debenham’s at £5. The cost of christmas puddings and christmas cakes varies from shop to shop but Marks and Spencer have the best offers on currently.

Smellies – bath/shower hand/foot creams – BHS has some lovely offers but for quality and a brand name – you can’t beat Debenhams Betty Jackson Black’s great great at fabulous prices!

Hi Gigi, thanks for your comment – glad to hear you’re finding lots of bargains for Christmas. However, this Convo is about multibuy offers, where you get a discount for buying more than one of a particular product. Have you spotted any rubbish multibuy offers?

Ah, multi-buys, the only reason I miss not having a mobile phone. I use Tesco and they’re offers are to be taken with a pinch of salt, not only are the offers quite often not that special, but quite often the price is hiked from the week before and the product now on “offer” at a price the same or worse than the week before.

Other people find it amazing just how bad Tesco can be too, enjoy : https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tesco-Offer-Fail/109092949114632?fref=ts

A friend gave me a 150g bag of Red Sky crisps, from Waitrose. The original price was £1.99, with £3 off if you bought 3 packs. They were marked down to £1.09 on the ‘Best before’ date, so three packs cost 27p. It’s not the first time and very occasionally the discount means that you are paid to take away heavily discounted food that is on offer.

One thing that annoys me about misleading multibuy offers, like custard tarts pack of 2 for £1.08 or buy 2 for £2.50 ( see I told you a I miss having a mobile phone). When I pointed this out to the customer services desk, their attitude was appalling. Firstly there’s the we stock around 40k products ( do I care, no) you should expect the odd mistake, followed up by, all prices are set by head office so there’s nothing we can do.

Well, I’m sorry that’s just lame. Assuming around half of all Tesco stores stock the product and each store only employs 1 person to put the prices on the shelves and stock/restock the shelves you’re looking at around 1500 employees who could/should have spotted the issue before I did. And does it not occur to Customer DisServices that maybe they could ring/email Head Office and point it out for me, rather than let me go home and notify head office myself. Makes me think they do this sort of thing deliberately to con the customers.

Three days later the offer was buy 2 for £1.50. I wonder how many people brought it and paid £2.50.

I guess tricks like this have been around for thousands of years as even the Romans had a saying for it, “caveat emptor” , “buyer beware” 🙂

Kelly says:
19 November 2012

I took a photo when shopping in sainsburys of their great 2 for £5 deal on chicken. If you bought them individually they were £2.50. What a bargain. I rarely get multibuys now as it just increases my shopping bill, packs of sausages £2.59 or 2 packs for £5.

I really dislike multi-buys even when the multiple purchase is cheaper than single ones – mainly because it is obvious that the single item is overpriced in the first place. I’ve got to the point that I will happily not buy an item at all rather than play along with this silly game.

I live in Scotland and the Scottish Government banned multi-buy offers on alcohol last year. I haven’t seen any evidence that this has pushed up the price of alcoholic drinks. Whereas the supermarkets used to have crazy offers like “1 bottle of wine for £5.99 or 3 for £10” the same bottles are now sold at £3.33 each. The only difference to the customer is that they can buy what they want rather than be forced into making unnecessary purchases of minimal quality table wine.

Christine says:
24 January 2013

The Scottish Government have got it RIGHT! How I wish this would come into force nationwide and in general and not just on alcohol.

We shop a lot for food at M&S and they usually have a variety of sensible multi buy offers. Their prices seem stable so offers are easy to assess and generally worthwhile – providing you want 8 apples when you would have bought 4. Just exercise common sense. Staples- like bread, cheese – puddings and main foods 2 for less than 2×1, with a variety of choice, all seem genuine deals. Foods on deals that freeze make sense as well.

Ian H says:
24 November 2012

Multibuys are indeed often little better than obsfucation when it comes to working out the true price of food items – especially fruit and veg. If the Consumers Association were to publish a monthly index of typical food prices per kilo it would do us all an immense favour. The big supermarkets seem to have a ongoing game plan the intention of which is to disconnect the consumer from using price per kilo as the standard comparison method. The ability to make accurate food price comparisons – easily – would be a true consumer service that would increase the profile and prestige of the Consumers Association.

Troy Tempest says:
25 November 2012

One thing I have come across a number of times recently is multi-buy offers that cover a product range, but which excludes one or two of the range without telling you this on the advert. Two examples that I have come across recently in Sainsburys are:

1. Heinz Soup. The “big advert” said something along the lines of: “4 for £3 on Heinz traditional soups 440ml.” There was no small print on this advert stating any exclusions. Therefore, the natural assumption is that all Hienz 440ml traditional soups are in the offer. However, not all of them are. This is only apparent by looking at the individual pricing labels next to the individual soups.

A second example was with Dettol Wipes. The large main advert said something like “2 packs for £3 on dettol wipes (36 pack)” Again no small print to indicate any exclusions. There are 3 or 4 slightly different types of Dettol wipes (in packs of 36) next to each other on the shelves. Therefore, once again the assumption is that the offer applies to all types. However, the offer excluded one particular type, and this exclusion was not stated on the main advert.

I would like to know if this is breech of advertising legistation?; i.e. if there is an advertisement that tells you a something is a certain price, and there is no small print on that advert to tell you otherwise, isn’t that the price they have to charge? You can’t get away with then having another advert somewhere else that tells you a different price?

jane says:
11 April 2015

any store saying a muiltibuy say,on heinz soups have to have in there advert all or not inculding the name of soup. also i have found sometimes it is cheaper to buy 2 small jars of coffee than a large one you just have to be alert and ,if any think is wrong ask to see a manager if customer service are not helpful then if you are told there is not one about ask them to call him again and tell him your next stop will be trading standard it is amazing how they have just left that meeting

Has anyone else notice that larger packets/boxes are being re-branded so as not to imply they are better value ?

I’ve just had an email from Kellogg’s confirming that thy are replacing/ have replaced such wording across all products.

I cheekily rang them back asking why they would need to do that, knowing it is probably the supermarkets who have requested this change, but Kellogg’s declined to answer that question.

I discovered an interesting multibuy in M&S today. 2 x 170g packets of Percy Pigs are £2.50 but you can get one 340g packet for £2.45. Then again going through the till the large bag of Percys was charged at £2.65 and I didn’t realise until I got home. I called the store and they said the shelf was correct and I had been overcharged, so as long as I keep the receipt they will refund the difference next time I’m in.

Any quibbles from them and I have a photo on my phone because a friend didn’t believe that M&S would make a multibuy more expensive than the larger packet!

Currently Tesco Fairtrade tea pack of 80 91p , special offer buy 2 for £3.00 ( see https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tesco-Offer-Fail/109092949114632 for others).

I’m glad I emailed the CEO about their pricing mistakes, just sad to see they’ve not taken any notice

Body Shop have a multibuy discount offer in some stores. Buy 3 items get 35% discount, buy 4 items get 40% discount. However it seems that on some occasions , although it dose not say not in conjunction with other offers, twin packs are classed as 2 items at the original full price resulting in a much lower saving than could reasonably be anticipated.

Pensioner says:
26 May 2014

Multibuys and bogofs are downright unfair. Why do I have to pay more for something just because I only need or want one? For example, today, 26 May, Tesco fresh beans were £2 a packet or 3 packets for £4! I have to pay £2 a packet but if I had a family who can eat 3 packets I would only pay £1.33 a packet. Supermarkets are not treating their customers fairly or equally.

Multi buys in the firm of “Meal Deals” can be very confusing or frankly misleading. Currently feeling very annoyed with Morrisons – TWICE now, and in different branches they have put 500ml bottles of Oasis drink on the Meal Deal shelves, but it’s only the 375ml size that is included in the deal. The first time I got caught and had to pay the higher price for the 3 separate items. The second time, I checked more carefully – pointed out the error to a member of staff only to be told, “we don’t have any 375ml bottles”. She just shrugged when I told her they had 500ml bottles incorrectly placed on the Meal Deal shelves. I then went to the checkout with a different (allowed) drink, only to be told that the sandwich I had chosen was not in the Meal Deal! I left all the goods at the checkout and walked out.

It is time Which? campaigned to get rid of multi-buys and meal deals.

I have noticed Ocado are putting more of their special offers into meal deals. Meal deals are just another way to trick you into buying something you would not otherwise want and could be just as wasteful as multi-buys.

If a product is on special offer, it should be reduced in price to make it fair to everyone.

We wanted to buy party food from Waitrose for a celebration, so went onto their website where various lines had ‘Offer’ flashed across the corners. These varied in price from £3.49 to £3.99, with others costing up to £7.99. The offer was ‘Mix & match Add 3 for 2 Cheapest item free’. We selected six such offer lines, ordering 6 of each. Total 36 packs. Perhaps naively expecting that we’d get two free packs of each line, we were unpleasantly surprised to find the saving was 6 x £3.49 + 6 x £3.99 (these were ‘free’), not two of each line, because evidently this is not a typical BOGOF variant. So as the order was going to cost much more than we’d expected we cancelled it and went to M&S instead, who sensibly simply sell assorted party nibbles in one large pack. Feeling strongly that such offers are confusing, if not misleading, we have made a formal complaint to the Advertising Standards Agency.

Bryan Davis says:
5 January 2015

A multibuy benefits the seller in that you are less likely to buy that product the next time from a competitor, so you should get a genuine discount from the seller.

In defence of one of the images on your site, the soup costing 80p or any 4 for £3 followed by the mulitpack at £2.99 is actually fair, as it allows people to pick different flavour soups as part of the 4.
This doesn’t excuse the others of course.

I have found that I need to check very carefully before buying multibuys as it is quite common to see a multibuy pack which costs MORE than the same number of single items. Luckily with a Smart phone to hand it is easy to use the calculator to check the unit price of the items in a multibuy pack against the single cost to avoid wasting money.

Luigi says:
9 August 2018

I notice at M&S the multi buys have packs with smaller amounts in – e.g. prawns in the stir fry deal, so is not comparable to buying the items separately. In other words, you get less hence their reduced price – but you think you are saving money because you think you are getting full packs.