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Do you find Waitrose’s 3 for 2 offers confusing?

Supermarket offers

What do cod liver oil and nettle & peppermint teabags have in common? It may sound odd, but they were included in the same 3 for 2 offer at Waitrose.com.

This came as quite a surprise to me when I was filling my basket online, as I wouldn’t have thought the items in the 3 for 2 offer were a natural pairing. Continuing my shop, I found Dorset Cereals granola and Cawston Press apple juice seemed to be included in the same offer too.

Mixed messaging

I was trawling through hundreds of offers online after a Which? member got in touch to tell us that they found it ‘impossible to work out the saving’ on their shopping on waitrose.com.

Described as Mix and Match Add 3 for 2 Cheapest Item Free, Waitrose’s offer essentially means that for every three items you buy, you’ll get the third one free in descending order of price.

So far so good: that’ll give me the best savings when I pay for my shop. With such a wide (and sometimes unexpected) range of products in the deal, I don’t have to change what I want to buy to take advantage of the offer either.

The problem? It’s not clear that this is how the saving works until you get your food shopping delivered.

Waitrose told us that when the order is put through the till in the store that packs it, the total saving is applied.

I reviewed my order, but my savings didn’t seem to add up. I’d chosen three £1 melons and three £3 packs of pears for my fruit salad and been shown a £2 saving. That’d be two free melons and no free pears. I’d expect to save £4 – and this is what Waitrose assures I will get on receipt of my shopping.

Clearer offers

The Which? member who got in touch was keen to make the most of three for two offers by buying three of each item; they found the saving shown on their order confirmation was less than expected.

When you have your shopping in-hand, this deal gives you the best saving – but you’ll just need to trust in that until you get your final receipt. But shouldn’t it be much clearer than that?

Waitrose says it’s looking at how it can make savings online clearer – we’ll keep you updated.

But in the meantime, have you come across any baffling supermarket offers or unexpected deal combinations? We’d like to hear about them.


I have not encountered this offer but I don’t like it because it is not possible to work out the unit price of each item. Other supermarkets play the same game and I’m sure the intention is to discourage us from using unit prices – which were provided to help us compare prices of similar products.

You do take the “discount” on trust until you look at your receipt. We shop at M&S and there are a number of regular discounts – 3 for £7 deli, 3 for £10 meat and fish, 3 for 2 on coffee (cheapest item free). Oh, and a good £10 meal deal. Thing is, you don’t need to use these offers if you don’t want to – the individual prices are not increased. But they do offer a wide range of product to select from so they are usually advantageous, and can help the economy of the shopper.

But it comes down to freedom to buy as you wish. If you don’t like special offers in a store, don’t shop there. If they are deceitful, report them.

25% off 6 bottles of wine? Is that any different?

I must admit I am flummoxed by this. Does it have anything to do with the order in which you add items to your basket? Or do they aggregate all the items covered by the offer and just give the bottom-priced one third of the order free of charge? I am rather disappointed that Waitrose have descended to this kind of tactic as they used to be very open and honest on pricing. “Waitrose says it’s looking at how it can make savings online clearer”; don’t try to mix a ‘mix-&-match’ offer with a ‘BOGOF’ deal would be my recommendation.

I think supermarkets are tying themselves in knots trying to lure customers and shift slow-moving lines. Having breathed a sigh of relief when Sainsbury’s recently announced that they were doing away with their obscure competitive pricing mechanisms and going for straightforward lower prices I now find they are fiddling about with their bonus vouchers issued by the till on completion of your shopping. They have always been irritating but they are now becoming ludicrous. Having done a large shop we were presented with a voucher for something like 700 Nectar points if we spent over £30 on various cleaning and related products in one shop within a fortnight. Having just restocked the cleaning cupboard [and the system knows that!] trying to spend £30 on such items is almost impossible in one go – many of the items are cheap anyway and some are already on discount [so you have to buy a stockpile to achieve the spend], and it is far from clear which products are inside or outside the designated category. Plus you need to go round with a calculator to see how you’re doing against the price threshold. This sort of offer makes it much more difficult for people on low incomes or who live on their own, and especially if they don’t have a car for £30 of cleaning products is a weighty load. I expect somebody received a bonus for coming up with this crackpot wheeze. I wonder how often it has been redeemed. Making offers impossible to negotiate is not honest trading in my book and our better retailers should be ashamed of themselves for doing it.

No point in buying something you don’t need! I’ve a nectar card – rarely use it but it has, over the years, accumulated around £27 which I assume one day I will get round to spending. A pity there is not a cash alternative. Remember GreenShield stamps? I think you could redeem those at the rate of around a million for a penny if you didn’t shoose a gift.

The 3 for 2 is not uncommon – Boots (the Chemist) at Christmas and other times for example. The system should group products onto 3s where two higher priced ones yield a “free” lower priced one, but done in appropriate groups. So the example given in the intro should have yielded a £4 saving.

What matters to me is what I spend overall on my (well, mrs r’s) shop. Unit prices are useful, but not relevant when buying offers if the items become cheaper than their normal unit price – a saving is being made.

I still have some Green Shield stamps in case they make a come-back! I seem to accumulate quite a lot of Nectar points at BP and Homebase and let them build up until December when they ease the Christmas shopping bill. Sainsbury’s halved the redemption rate a few months ago so they are not worth going out of your way for. I would far sooner go back to straightforward honest pricing.

I also remember the political storm over the abolition of Resale Price Maintenance – one of the few things for which Alec Douglas-Home’s short government was memorable. It was pushed through Parliament by Edward Heath as President of the Board of Trade, split the Tory party, upset the small traders, and led to the ultimate dominance of big supermarkets whose bulk-buying deals could undercut the market.

I don’t know how the Boots system works at Christmas-time but on an everyday basis it is annoying. If you try to buy three groups of three products in the deal the system ignores this at the checkout and merely takes the three bottom-priced items out of the nine selected and gives them free. If you want to make the sort of savings the offer is enticing you with you have to go round three times and pay separately each time. We hardly ever go to Boots nowadays since it is no longer competitive and its own-label products are now generally inferior.

I am confident that Sainsbury’s computer will be able to cope with the order that items are scanned, John. I take your point about people with little money or no car to transport their money-saving bulk purchases but I’m most concerned about the amount of fresh food that gets wasted because of BOGOF deals. I believe that Aldi and Lidl avoid all this carry on and it’s hardly surprising that their market share is increasing, though I don’t have much personal experience.

I agree with you on food waste Wavechange. We buy a lot of fruit at this time of the year and the supermarkets seem to overstock the displays with items with three or four days’ before the ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date. People seem to instinctively go for the longer-dated produce leaving the stuff that is ripe to eat in the next 24-hours unsold. We prefer short-dated fruit because it is nearly ripe and we only buy enough for immediate needs. I suppose we are in a fortunate position that we can easily buy some more tomorrow and the day after whereas some people have to [or like to] get a week’s supply in one go. I still feel that the unnecessary desire to present an abundance of fruit as a temptation is the cause of so much waste.

I thought one of the good points about Morrison’s provision of a decent cafeteria in their bigger supermarkets was that they were able to use up left-overs from the shop, especially vegetables. Their deli counters are also creative with their salads to avoid waste. I’m not sure the other big supermarkets see their caffs and delis in that light.

I agree with you on food waste Wavechange. We buy a lot of fruit at this time of the year and the supermarkets seem to overstock the displays with items with three or four days’ before the ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date. People seem to instinctively go for the longer-dated produce leaving the stuff that is ripe to eat in the next 24-hours unsold. We prefer short-dated fruit because it is nearly ripe and we only buy enough for immediate needs. I suppose we are in a fortunate position that we can easily buy some more tomorrow and the day after whereas some people have to [or like to] get a week’s supply in one go. I still feel that the unnecessary desire to present an abundance of fruit as a temptation is the cause of so much waste.

I thought one of the good points about Morrison’s provision of a decent cafeteria in their bigger supermarkets was that they were able to use up left-overs from the shop, especially vegetables. Their deli counters are also creative with their salads to avoid waste. I’m not sure the other big supermarkets see their caffs and delis in that light.

I don’t know how or why that comment got duplicated – I received an “Unexpected Token D” message. Leaves on the line I suppose.

I’ve had the “unexpected token D” when I “press” reply twice accidentally – maybe thinking I didn’t hammer the key hard enough first time. Still, some comments are worth repeating.

I wish we would just have use by dates. I confess to being guilty (no, its common sense) to looking at the use by dates to get the freshest; these are often at the back of the shelf. It reduces our waste when it gets delayed in the catering establishment’s plans, but I’m sure some will consider me antisocial. It can be avoided by shops restocking shelves more carefully when most of the imminent dates have been sold. But hey, life’s too short.

There is a distinct correlation between cod liver oil and peppermint tea inasmuchas both are considered herbal remedies and both contain oils, the latter extracted from the peppermint leaves from which the tea is distilled.

There is some evidence that peppermint tea aids the indigestion that cod liver oil and other fatty substances can cause and that it also relieves irritable bowel syndrome, but both cod liver oil and peppermint tea are not recommended for people suffering from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) as (a) cod liver oil is hard to digest anyway and (b) peppermint tea relaxes the oesophageal sphincter, exacerbating the reflux problem. Wikipedia explains it all @ en.m.wikipedia – Peppermint Tea.

With increasing uncertainty about the dangers of taking ant-acids however, peppermint tea is an excellent remedy for indigestion and is also an intestinal relaxant and CLO is a good source of vitamins A and D for growing children.

I hope the above goes some way to explain what cod liver oil and peppermint tea have in common, but I am still not sure whether I personally would go for the 3 for 2 offer, although someone with a young child and a Mom or Dad who suffer from IBS may!

Waitress needs to make stupid offers because prices there are ridiculously high in the first instance..It just away to baffle people who shop there into still shopping there. Baffle or fool the consumer if you can into shopping there . everywhere you go

These type of offers are are a sophisticated deception bordering on the criminal. They confuse the elderly; rip off the busy shopper and single people too. Additionally they encourage greed and waste. Companies are primarily concerned about maximising profit not the benefits of the customer. This profiteering is achieved by this type of deception.

These offers when you shop online can be tricky and really need sorting at the supermarket management level. In shop, however, what is necessary is to collect the 3 for 2 offers in separate groups, optimised for the best saving, then put them through the tills as individual shopping orders. This process is time consuming, costs the supermarket money because of the extra staff needed, disgruntled customers behind you, etc. and is generally tiresome. We’ve got it down to a fine art, now: when they see us in the line they normally open a new till for us. If enough folk followed this example, I suspect the supermarkets would see sense, but most have neither the time nor the inclination to do it.

The same technique could be applied to the online ordering system. If everyone were simply to ring the CS hotline and ask for their bill to be explained in detail, then argue about the anticipated savings, I suspect the supermarkets would soon up their game.

Malcolm mentions M & S as examples of good practice in this department, but I slightly disagree. Marks’ Self service till system doesn’t show the discount as you scan the items – even when you’ve put the three through – and shows the total to be paid without the discount. It’s only when you pay that you realise you’ve had the discount. That’s irritating.

The biggest con? Dishwasher tablets. Priced at £14 or more a pack we’ve never paid more then £6 – since they’re always on ‘special offer’. Essentially, supermarkets rely on customers whose time is to valuable to spend it complaining about Machiavellian pricing strategies and deceptive offers to accept what they offer without question. Perhaps we need to re-think our relationship with pedlars and snake oil salesmen, regardless of how well they’re dressed.

If you’re wealthy enough to use Waitrose, you probably ought not to trouble your pretty little head with the sordid details of “money off” offers. Why not just let your butler/housekeeper keep any resulting savings as a reward for savvy shopping on their part?

As you can probably tell, I’m a member of class “riffraff”, and, as such, I’m supposed to shop elsewhere, e.g. Sainsburys.

You are so ‘last century’, Derek – A man from Waitrose in a suit and tie brings it round nowadays and leaves it in the boot room. The butler picks out the silver polish and liquors, the maids distribute the rest. Things will have to change now we’re leaving the EU – just won’t be able to get the staff. Waitrose are late this morning – Telegraph not yet arrived.

In Tesco yesterday I saw an offer for two 500g soups for £2.50. They were 40p each. Took a picture and sent to Tesco but this kind of ‘offer’disgusts me

A close relative who flatly refuses to shop at Waitrose on the assumption they are “too expensive” has never even shopped there to my knowledge! The problem emanates from location. Recent housing market research claims that living in close proximity to a Waitrose store will increase the valuation of your property, but I would argue that maybe Waitose only opens stores in more affluent areas. In any event, if Waitrose happens to be the nearest supermarket to your home, why does anyone spend extra money on petrol and time driving to Aldi or Asda a further 10 miles down the road? It just doesn’t make sense!

There are always offers available at Waitrose and I will always check the sell by date before buying and I will only buy if it is on my shopping list which I try to stick to come what may. If your mental arithmetic is not up to scratch then why not use a calculator? Any offer should be subject to questioning, and no-one is forcing you to buy.

By the way, my butler hasn’t turned up this morning and the maid has phoned in sick 🙂 The gardener did come and cut the grass for me yesterday and I took my last pill this morning. Despite feeling unwell this last week I have to get to the local chemist sometime today to pick up a repeat prescription, vital for my well being. I wonder whether they will be offering any 3 for 2 there are maybe a few nectar points? I may be tempted to by a jar of local honey which contains enough nectar to keep me nourished and replace some of the energy lost this week!

In my experience Waitrose are competitive on like-for-like products and on many branded goods. They have a reputation for priciness because they offer a large number of more upmarket groceries, dairy and deli products and some of the more sophisticated cuts of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables. But if you stick to the food you would buy in any other supermarket – and avoid the ‘added value’ lines – your shopping basket price will be as close as makes no difference. The same applies to M&S Food – you don’t have to buy the more flavoursome choices as the plain vanilla ones are very good quality and value. Of course, temptation is a popular weakness and the retailers know how to lead us there.

Quality of food matters as well as price, if you enjoy eating. That doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. Rump is my preferred steak because it has flavour, but buy cheap and it can be like shoe leather. Buy from a reputable shop and it will have both texture and flavour.

Jenny S says:
13 August 2016

I disagree that M&S offers are straightforward. There are so many slightly differing offers with things side by side on the shelves in different offers. The other day I bought 3 items that I thought were in the 3 for £10 offer, two meats and some salmon slices – I only added in the salmon as a third item and I thought I was getting it very cheaply. The discounts don’t show when they are being scanned and I did not have time to look at my receipt until I was on the bus. The salmon was in a different 3 for £10 offer, although the red labels were almost identical and very easily taken as the same offer, so I had spent about £4 more than I needed to. Our nearest M&S is very small and often they don’t have enough choice to make up the three items required for offers.

If we had a Waitrose nearer I would shop there much more often. It’s not expensive if you’re careful, the quality is great and it’s a much nicer shopping experience. When we have a trip there (2 buses taking 90 mins each way) I usually just buy what I need or can’t get elsewhere, and if there’s an offer that’s a bonus. At least there’s usually a helpful member of staff to explain any offers, unlike Tesco or Morrisons.

I concur with your views of M and S offers. On my first shop at M and S I fell victim to your example. NEVER AGAIN. It was very very confusing at the time and I had to ask a member of the M and S team what was included in the offers and how it worked as all the red labels looked the same. I now spend more time reading those M and S “red” offer labels even cancelling items at the till if I don’t get the discount I was expecting.

Yes, M & S work the system even more sneakily than Tesco or Asda. I’d forgotten about that ‘3 for £10’ trick – very subtle indeed, and now we collect our stuff then grab an assistant and ask them to go through it to check. Wastes the shop’s resources and, again, if everyone did it they’d soon change their policy.

We shop at M&S every week and use their offers when they suit us, which is frequently. We’ve never found any “sneaky” offers, and very rarely found any difficult to understand. There is no 3 for £10 trick that we have seen. An odd genuine mistake maybe, but that is it, and the staff are extremely helpful when putting things right.

Offers on their Sparks card work well; 20% off the normal price of eggs, milk, coffee, tea, sausages, cooked chicken, this week. Every little helps.

Waitrose is actually the closest supermarket to my “country residence” (in Malvern), so I sometimes shop there, if I’ve I popped over to assist the head gardener with his duties. I agree that “ordinary” products in Waitrose don’t tend to cost more than they might from Sainsburys . However, as also noted, Waitrose does offer a tempting selection of nice (but pricey) things that may not be available elsewhere.

My “town house” (in Gloucester) is served by a 24/7/365 M&S “Simply Expensive” and Sainsburys, Morrisons, Asda, Farm Foods, Lidl, Co-op and Tesco all have supermarkets within walking distance. M&S have some very nice stuff – but it does tend to be very pricey when sold on a convenience store basis.

As others have noted, most supermakets use these offers to increase their sales volume. If the goods are non perishable, and one has the extra cash, and load carrying capacity, then one can use these offers to save a bit of money. Alternatively, the high prices in my local M&S actually help me to spend less money, because I’ll only buy stuff I really, really want when I actually need it (and not before).

Alison says:
19 August 2016

I have told Waitrose that I dislike their 3 for2 etc. offers, and find it confusing and time-consuming to work out what is and what is not included in each – even in the store (I dread to think of these complications online!). Why can’t all supermarkets just say (e.g.) “20% off” for individual products? Then customers can decide how many they want to buy of any particular product(s) on offer (and have room to store, or can use before they ‘go off’) – rather than buying the extra to ‘save’ money, and then wasting it .

I agree with Alison. I’m afraid I am fed up with Waitrose at the moment. It seems impossible to shop there without having to make a whole set of decisions: before I go I need to have trawled through all their offers in order to select my favourites for 20% off, when I get there there are two for £4, three for £10 offers. I find myself deciding not to buy a product at £2.50 because I could have had it with another product for £4 for the two! But I only really wanted one. Self defeating. The occasional offer is nice but when offers affect over half the decisions you have to make if becomes burdensome. I’m preferring Sainsbury’s!

Perhaps Waitrose think most of their customers have nothing else to do all day [and to some extent they might be right by all appearances!] . They might also assume – with some justification – that their customers either (a) are more able to work out the best deals than the customers of other shops, or (b) don’t take any notice of the price anyway. I agree with you about Sainsbury’s: shopping there has been at least as pleasurable as going to Waitrose and I think they are quietly creeping into Waitrose’s market position – which might be why Waitrose are getting in a flap.

I don’t enjoy shopping for my bits and pieces in a vast superstore which often involves a longer journey and pushing a trolley round and round miles of elongated corridors and searching for my itemised list of shopping amongst long rows of shelves for it; rather like looking for a needle in a haystack, which only adds to the stress, confusion and fatigue of my fortnightly shopping experience.

Waitrose is my nearest supermarket in both directions so I not only save on petrol getting there, I also enjoy the adequate space and size, the clean and fresh ambiance, and now the ‘free’ coffee even though that involves buying a pastry or cake to accompany it which I will sometimes wrap up in the napkin provided and take home with me for eating later on in the day. If their pricing and offers confuse, why not pop a calculator into your pocket or handbag to assist with the price offers?

We are fortunate to have such a wide choice of places and prices to shop but it’s been my personal experience over the years that food buying in a cheaper store usually results in buying much more than I intended, or even needed and exceeding my original budget.

Could that be one of the many reasons for the high rate of obesity in this country? Food for thought, if not for money being the motto here!

I agree with you, Beryl.

Waitrose respond to a different demographic to that pursued by the “cheaper stores” to which you allude and I think the way they present food reflects that. They don’t seem to major on the aisles full of crisps, snacks and sugary drinks and cereals that others do. They sell the same popular products [mostly] but in lesser volumes so they are not so prominent. It is instinctive retail psychology to allocate the best spaces to the highest-selling lines and it becomes self-reinforcing. And because the Waitrose customer tends to have a preference for the healthier choices and more natural foodstuffs, these are more noticeable on the shelves. These values are also dynamically conditioning their customers a bit like compound interest. Waitrose therefore becomes alien territory to those who think their food is both expensive and not enjoyable. This makes Waitrose even more appealing to the sensible shopper who appreciates their style and disdains the other supermarkets [and by extension, perhaps, the people who prefer shopping there]. I am not suggesting that you feel like that, Beryl, as you made it perfectly clear that you shop at Waitrose because it is the nearest. I find the psychology around shopping rather fascinating, especially how some of our biggest corporations lose the plot and drift into positions and policies that bear no relation to their original business plans.

I shop at Waitrose because the store and staff are pleasant, in general the quality is good and if there is something wrong there’s never a problem getting it sorted out. I’m not wealthy but, like others who have posted here, I stick to the standard offerings and I’m shameless about rummaging through the reduced items! However, I do agree with Alice about the ‘Pick Your Own Offers’ scheme. I’m always dubious about offers that expect you to jump through hoops – as if my time has no value – but I’ve got a some other issues with this one:
– they tell you that you can change your selection 10 times a month, but this isn’t strictly true. I changed two of mine yesterday and a message came up saying I could make 8 more changes before the end of the month – in other words, you can’t change your entire range 10 times a month, you can just change 10 individual items.
– when you are making your choice, they tell you the current price and the price with 20% off, but they don’t say if the current price is a special offer. If you want a product but you don’t care which brand, you can easily select one because the 20% off makes it cheaper than other brands; then you start buying that brand because it’s your chosen offer, only to find you’re paying more because the special offer has ended.
– the products available under the PYO offer tend to be the more expensive ones and there is often a cheaper alternative, e.g. I had the bag of large oranges in my selection until I realised that, after you’d peeled them, the fruit inside was no bigger than the “ordinary” ones which, even without 20% off, are cheaper.
– it might be my imagination, but I’ve noticed hefty price rises on some of the products I’d selected; the one I remember in particular was salmon fillets, where the price of a pack of 2 went up so much that even with the 20% off it was still cheaper pro rata to buy a pack of 4 (I put the extra 2 in the freezer).
So in my list I have a few things that I buy nearly every week, and if I’m planning to buy something particularly pricey I will look at the PYO choices to see if it’s available, but I’m certainly not devoting a lot of my time to this exercise!

Sean Lever says:
22 August 2016

I now don’t use supermarkets where there are a excessive offer stickers; Waitrose, M&S and Co-op are particularly bad nowadays. Sainsbury’s is the only store to have relatively simple pricing, all the other chains have gone over the top with their “offers” and “deals” and lost my business.

I agree with you Sean.

Waitrose, M&S and the Co-op are fighting a battle against a public perception that they are more expensive than the others. Since Tesco had to give me back £3.23 on a modest shop under their ‘brand guarantee’ the other day it suggests they are uncompetitive – and that refund would not have been available to a customer who bought fewer than ten items. The Tesco brand guarantee is set against Asda, Morrison’s and Sainsbury’s prices for branded products [i.e. not own label] but since Waitrose also have an extensive list of ‘brand match’ products, and their own-label products are competitive on a like-for-like basis, shopping there need be no more expensive but the high-price image takes some shifting.

I agree that the proliferation of confusing – and sometimes conflicting – offers and deals is not helpful, leads to waste, and only benefits the better-off or larger households.

“Waitrose, M&S and the Co-op are fighting a battle against a public perception that they are more expensive than the others.”

My personal experiences suggest there is plenty of evidence to support that view!

Nonetheless, I do like the range of stuff that Waitrose sell.

If you buy the same products as you would in any other supermarket I don’t think Waitrose are more expensive overall, but – as with M&S – they upscale their products with added or special ingredients or offer superior quality foods so they are not comparable like-for-like. Understandably, those items will be more expensive. I have no recent experience of the Co-op – I just think they have lost the plot; their nearest store to us was recently sold to Aldi who have made a real go of what was previously a nearly-empty and lack-lustre store [albeit with excellent friendly service but bad music]. I would guess that footfall has tripled now.

Good food is one of life’s pleasures, so we look for decent quality products, whether in raw or prepared form. Had a sirloin steak on Saturday, tender, tasty, with grilled tomatoes from the greenhouse. A prepared seafood casserole the night before with salmon, prawns, scallops, tomato and spinach – but mainly fish. Delicious. The point is, I want to know that firstly, the ingredients will be good quality, secondly it will not be padded out, and third it will be reliable (how many steaks have you had that were tough?). So if a store is a little (and only a little) more expensive, I can live with that when I can look forward to my next meal. But often there are good, and sensible, deals on offer on the same quality of food.

I agree with that Malcolm. The better the quality of a main course the more satisfied we are and less likely to want an unhealthy dessert. I always prefer seconds to afters.