/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Clearer supermarket prices for all!

Ketchup and Banana with food labels

All major supermarkets in the UK have agreed to improve the way they display prices in-store. This is a big victory for our Price It Right campaign and means it’ll soon be easier to compare prices.

Great news! The Government today announced that all 10 UK supermarkets have committed to making their pricing clearer and simpler for shoppers.

Our research has repeatedly shown that people are concerned about rising food prices, and that they’re having to shop around to get the best deals. In fact, our survey found that six in 10 people have changed their food shopping habits due to rising food prices.

People told us that they were having to compare prices more carefully, and yet the way prices were displayed in shops wasn’t helping.

Our mystery shopping of supermarkets revealed that the unit price – which is supposed to enable you to compare the price of products based on the same unit (eg per Kg or per litre) – wasn’t working as intended. We found that the unit price was often hard to read, given in inconsistent units or just simply missing.

Clearer supermarket prices

Our Price It Right campaign, which launched in 2012, called on supermarkets to take action and make their pricing simpler and easier to read. Some responded quicker than others. In July 2013, Aldi, The Co-operative, Morrisons and Waitrose were the first to agree to take action in the three areas we identified – consistency, legibility and displaying the unit price on special offers. Sainsbury’s also improved the display of its labels and looked at clearer pricing for fruit and vegetables.

The announcement today, however, means that all 10 of the main supermarkets have committed to improving the visibility of their labels and to providing more consistent unit pricing. Six have also said that they’ll put the unit price on special offers so that people stand a better chance of working out if they’re really better value or not.

We’ll be monitoring the progress that the supermarkets are making – and with unit pricing improvements secured, we will now focus on ensuring that the supermarkets also get their act together on misleading special offers. You can help by signing our latest petition, and by sharing any dodgy deals you spot on supermarket shelves.


What are you going to do about buy 1 get 1 free offers and sales where prices are put up for a few weeks then dropped on special offer?

You don’t have to take up any offers if you don’t want them – such as bogof. As for “sale” prices, we need to ensure that the regulations are followed.When they are not, they should be publicised and worthwhile penalties imposed – as with Tesco and strawberries. Consumers should help by drawing attention to these, to, for example, Which and trading standards. I don’t buy the excuse that “we sell a lot of products and mistakes are sometimes made”. Supermarkets are very professional marketeers and know what they are doing; persistent offenders should be exposed.

Congratulations to Which? on this success, and please keep up the pressure on supermarkets to help their customers.

Of course you don’t have to take up the ‘two for the price of one’ and similar offers for fresh food, many are being put under the pressure of either paying a lot for the individual item or taking up the offer and risking wasting food, or over-eating in order to consume it while it is still fresh.

I have no problem with these offers on other goods but not on fresh food. Perhaps Which? could start a new campaign. A lot of people would be grateful, for example those struggling to make ends meet or just living on their own and not really able to benefit from these offers.

Why do we assume that people need someone else to decide for them whether or not they can buy an offer? Surely they can decide for themselves. Those who can benefit from an offer should do so if they choose to, those who won’t benefit simply buy something more appropriate. As you can tell, I believe people should be allowed to exercise freedom of choice and not have the State (or anyone else) dictate how they should behave.

You and I can work out whether an offer is good value for money even if we are not given the unit price for the special offer. Some are not so fortunate and – as I have said before – we should consider the disabled and the elderly.

I have spoken to people who have worked in supermarkets and been told that making pricing difficult to understand is a deliberate ploy to encourage customers to buy more and spend more money.

I have no problem with supermarkets competing on prices but making it difficult for customers to understand pricing is not on. This is a real issue for many customers who are struggling to make ends meet or just don’t want to be cheated.

I have no problem with condemning shops that mislead with pricing. My issue is when we seem to underestimate the ability of most people to make judgements on information and offers that are presented clearly. I don’t see that disabled or elderly people should be singled out as having lost these faculties.
What really worries me is that there is some complacency that simple arithmetic tasks, and basic judgements, are somehow too great a challenge for us and we should dumb everything down to avoid using these basic skills . There must be something fundamentally wrong with our education system if these “life skills” are not acquired at an early age.
Education should address the practical issues we will face in life – including finances.

Lack of numeracy was one of my greatest concerns during my career in science teaching in universities. I produced teaching materials for use by colleagues and for self-help, both on paper and online. I worked with support services to identify how they could provide tailored face-to-face support for struggling students on a confidential basis. I noticed that Greek students tended to be much better than the average home or overseas students at handling numbers and was told that they had not been allowed to use calculators at school. No doubt there are other reasons for the marked decline in numeracy since the 70s. Scientists and engineers who handle numbers on a regular basis will improve their skills through practice, albeit later in life than their elders.

Not everyone shares our concern that a fair proportion of the population is not good at arithmetic. Some could say that numeracy is not very relevant to life in the 21st century. I don’t agree, but at least I now acknowledge that it is not necessary to learn to touch-type to work at a keyboard.

Having studied the issue of supermarket pricing for years, I believe that the majority of people do struggle. I don’t believe that we should force people to try to improve their numeracy by making supermarket pricing more complicated. As people get older they often lose skills and it is predicted that 135 people will be living with dementia by 2050. Not all disabilities are mental, but let’s not make life any harder than it is for the disabled.

All the major supermarkets have agreed to improve how they show their prices and hopefully the latest petition will achieve more in the fight for fair treatment of customers.

“Six have also said that they’ll put the unit price on special offers so that people stand a better chance of working out if they’re really better value or not.”

I’m very glad of this, as it has been a major problem for us in Tesco. I hope they’re one of the six and look forward to wasting less time in the toilet paper and tissues aisle.

I shop in Tesco and if there is a member of staff nearby I ask them to compare the offers and tell me which product is best value for money when special offers are involved. I can do mental arithmetic but I don’t see why I should have to, or anyone should need a calculator to help compare prices.

I have just ‘signed’ the petition, assuming that it is a new petition and not one I have previously supported.

It is high time that Which? devised a system that will allow us to review current petitions and whether or not we have previously signed up. Patrick mentioned that this is being looked into, but perhaps it is a high priority if Which? wants to maximise support for its campaigns.

Thanks Wavechange, I’ve passed on your feedback 🙂 Oh, and the special offers campaign is new!

Interesting debate on special offers, bogof etc, but have you all noticed on the fresh fish and fresh meat counters (i.e not pre-packed) there is a growing trend for prices to be expressed in £ per 100 grammes. Yes, I know it is very simple to multiply by 10 to see the price per kilogramme, however I would argue that this trend is an attempt by supermarkets to play down price increases. Interestingly, this ploy doesn’t seem to be used on pre-packed fish / meat, nor is it used on loose or pre-packed fruit & veg. Whilst, hopefully, the vast majority of consumers can compare such pricing and work out what’s best for them, I fear that there are some cerebrally challenged people out there who would be unable to do this – but then who knows how many of them make price comparisons anyway.

It does not matter if the customer is “cerebrally challenged” or not. Deliberately marking prices in a way that confuse in a no no.

Roy Hunter Fox says:
6 December 2013

The biggest “con” is the so called “half price” offer! Double it up and compare with “normal” prices and see how excessive the full price is. Tesco!!!

Let’s hope this sorts out the sneaky trick of pricing packaged goods in one set of units and identical lose ones in another, making comparisons difficult. For example, apples lose by the kilogram, packaged “4 for £X.XX”. Or even kilograms for one and pounds for the other.

Russell Wootton says:
6 December 2013

I believe all supermarkets take us for fools with the popular 3 for 2 offer. Popular for them, that is. I think most of us know that that is a poor deal because the unit price is full price or higher in the first place, and a single person I just don’t want to buy so much of some things. It is dishonest.

Alan says:
6 December 2013

My annoyance with supermarket pricing relates to the bag of 5 when the price is shown as per unit ie., the price of one banana as against the loose price per lb or kg when it is almost impossible to compare them without going and finding scales and further mental arithmetic. I’m of the age where I can do the mental arithmetic but it’s hard work for me let alone for somebody not good at mental arithmetic

Agreed. Shopping for groceries is a chore for most of us – we can do without the often complicated calculations needed to determine the best value. We will otherwise be spending twice as long clogging up the aisles – mainly scratching our heads in confusion as we work out prices. Perhaps these are tactics designed to keep us in the store longer, thinking we will buy more ?

Noticing a new trend which might be a new way to confuse if they can’t do it with different size packs. e.g. Sainsbury’s now have 2 types of own brand decaffeinated ground coffee. The more expensive one is on a “two for £x offer”. This label is over the shelf price label for the cheaper one, which isn’t on offer!

DaveSuffolk says:
6 December 2013

So Coop were one of the first to support the fairer prices campaign. But in my local they have used it to disguise a price increase on bananas which used to sell for around £1 per kg but now are priced at 20p per fruit. Aside from the fact that bananas vary in size, I weighed 6 and found they were approx 1kg, which means the new cost per kg is £1.20. I don’t like prices per fruit because apples, pears etc are not a standard, consistent size and therefore you cannot compare prices.

The day that Tesco gets this right will be a red letter day indeed.

Recently I have spotted fit balls priced “by the metre”, Products side by side where both were £33.60 for 908g – one was priced correctly per kilo (£37.01), the other as £33.60 per kilo.
They are incompetent. The defence from the store manager – “we have thousands of products”.

Prior to that I had to ask TWICE before the shelf front label on mushrooms, which claimed 400g per pack, was removed as the product contained 330g

Maybe I am ignorant but I cannot imagine what ‘fit balls’ are. 🙂

At that price it seems unlikely they are fat balls for feeding birds.

Made my day.. they are those big inflatable balls used in gyms for activity such as crunches (a type of sit up) and other exercises. Can also be used as a chair if you want to engage your core and keep back straight when sitting.

They come in different sizes depending on the size of the user – e.g. 65cm, 75cm etc.

Tesco decided to price them by the metre (^_^) – I reckon some junior in the office is having a laugh.

This week I spotted a pack of 16 toilet rolls at £8.97 – or £8.97 per 100 sheets

Thanks Adam. It’s obvious really. 🙂

The toilet roll you mention must have very thick sheets.

Tesco are certainly living up to their slogan. I think it’s something like “Very little help”.

I find Twitter is kind of satisfying – I Tweet @Tesco from in store (useful free wifi) with photos of offending items – they always claim to be “shocked” and “surprised” – hilarious!

The balls should have been priced per litre, I think. I have seen toilet rolls priced per square metre – I have difficulty relating that to their use.

There is a culture generally that I dislike – explanations that include:
– it was a mistake that we do not normally make
– we have so many products a few mistakes do occur
I wonder how many of these “mistakes” work in the customer’s favour?
But the worst I find is “lessons will be learned” – repeated so often that clearly they have not (and probably never will be).
Some do try to treat us well – we have returned a watch for the second time because the strap has failed due to poor design. It is well out of guarantee, but the retailer is sending it back to the manufacturer to, hopefully, be sorted. They also told me this was not the first failure of this type they had dealt with. This is John Lewis – that’s why people shop there, isn’t it? Watch this space.

John Askham says:
8 December 2013

How is this for Tesco honest service.
My wife and I purchased goods with Tesco Vouchers ie ROBINSON double concentrated juice buy one get one free with 70p voucher ,the till at the check out could not accept this to make matters worse certain Tesco vouchers were also refused as the voucher said reprinted on it these vouchers had only just been sent to us within the last few days and were clearly marked as reprinted
A supervisor tried without success to correct the problem and then said you must contact custermer services which is on a free phone number this was very embarrassing when you have by now created along queue behind you on reaching home I rang the service and was greeted by a cheerful bouncy young person who said<this does sometimes occur I am sorry and will send you out another set of Tesco club cards I asked why with Tesco we always have to carefully check our receipt as most times they are wrong ie the price printed was not the price stated in store goods which are faulty sometimes the total bill over charging by £15 we are told come back to the store with the proof never an apology for there mistakes no apology for having to use more petrol and no apology for the cost of telephone calls and time wasted I asked the lady who I was talking to if her screen showed our yewr on year shopping sales id did and she agreed they were welldown this year
No offer of compensation for all of there mistakes still awaiting new Tesco accout cards.

Normal vigilance failed. Bought Horlicks from Tesco – only size on shelf was 300g for £2.99. Last one bought from Waitrose – 500g for £3.49 (30% cheaper per 100g). Tesco also offer 500g for £3.49 – if it is stocked. I calculate that, based on their pricing, the actual Horlicks at Tesco on normal pricing costs £0.25 per 100g, and the packaging costs £2.24. So even if they put the correct details on the shelf, you can still be ripped off if their more “economical” size is not displayed or stocked.
We find Finish dishwasher tablets are often available half price in some packs, and have full price ones next to them. How can this be? Where do “sale” regulations and permanent half-price offers conflict?

I wish that it was easier to buy kitchen bin bags.

Some are sold with a measurement of size and some with a measurement of volume.

You’ve praised Morrisons for being one of the first to accept e.g. pricing consistency – but in practice they have not done this. Many items of fruit and veg [eg apples] are still priced sometimes per item and sometimes per weight so that it is not possible to make comparisons between different packages.

But even when pricing a bag of veggies on the label, albeit in small print, is the per kilo price

They are legally obliged to have a weighing scale available for customer use, so that Items which are priced per unit can be weighed for comparison purposes. Of course, we then have do some mental arithmetic or use a calculator to work out the best value, so we are back to where we started. Realistically however, certain items are best priced per unit, eg cabbages, cauliflowers, melons, lettuce and cucumbers. Note that you will not see half cucumbers on sale these days – they are cucumber portions – the reason ? Trading Standards have deemed that it is virtually impossible to be certain that a cucumber has been cut precisely in half – safer from the risk of prosecution to call it a cucumber portion. Just a snippet you might like to know.

Robert against retail robbers says:
24 December 2013

As of December 2013 nothing has changed. Morrisons are still putting large promo labels on gondola ends and not in the main locations. Offers are often priced wrong but 1 for 0.45p buy 2 for £1.00 ? ASDA put offers on yellow sel’s for the products they wany you to see and buy , but to be able to say they have 5,000 promo’s instore a few hundred of the ones they don’t want you to see are just plain white labels with no other promo – naughty.
Several of the large high street retailers are still putting up the standard price say 0.45p for sweets then putting on new promotion buy 1 for 0.55 or 2 for 0.90p which is what the previous price was anyway but because it’s on offer they sell more!
many products are not actual offers. when a product is suggested as having a price cut / roll back or 1/3 off for 9 months of the year is this the actual price ???
They must think we are stupid !!!
Morrisons most of the time have over 100 products which for weeks on end have no price sel, staff shortages.
Nothing has changed and it’s time we were treated as normal shoppers and not stupid mugs who do not notice these things. it’s 2014 we can google prices in seconds !!! Play fair or miss out on my money.

Waveslider says:
25 December 2013

The worst offenders are furniture retailers, especially large groups such as DFS. You will notice that virtually nothing is sold without an alleged reduction. These retailers get around the very weak Trades description act by allegedly offering the suite or item in one far flung store at a fictitiously high price for 28 days and then introducing the same design into all their outlets at “50%” off etc. This, in my opinion is deception. The only retailer I know who never shows a false reduction is John Lewis. They sell items labelled “Special Purchase” which is what they are. The only reductions are on “Clearance” items which are end of lines or damaged/soiled stock. Let’s hope that the increasing control of the so called “Marketing” executives does not destroy the hard won ethos of this unique organisation.

Waveslider says:
25 December 2013

The worst offenders are furniture retailers, especially large groups. You will notice that virtually nothing is sold without an alleged reduction. These retailers get around the very weak Trades Description act by allegedly offering the suite or item in one or twos far flung store at a fictitiously high price for 28 days and then introducing the same design into all their outlets at “50%” off etc. This, in my opinion is bordering on deception, all within the law of course. The only retailer I know who never shows a false reduction is John Lewis. They sell items labelled “Special Purchase” which is what they are. The only reductions are on “Clearance” items which are end of lines or damaged/soiled stock. Let’s hope that the increasing control of the so called “Marketing” executives does not destroy the hard won ethos of this unique organisation.

It’s good to learn that the supermarkets have committed to consistent pricing. Is Which? going to keep monitoring their progress? What is their timescale for achieving this?

Only a few days ago I found a misleading unit price at Sainsbury’s, and that’s a full month after the announcement of the “commitment”.

The misleading pricing concerns cans of Green Giant sweet corn & peas, 198g (drained weight 163g). They are sold individually and in packs of 3. The unit price for individual cans refers to the full weight, whereas the unit price for packs of 3 cans refers to the drained weight, making it impossible to compare.

Teragram says:
13 April 2015

One year on and Tesco still don’t give you price per kilo on all fresh produce