/ Money, Shopping

Are supermarket price promotions just clever trickery?

Hands doing a card trick

Tesco has been foiled for apparently raising prices on certain items just before reducing them for a price promotion. So are ‘price checks’ helpful in keeping shopping costs down or do you say BOGOF to it all?

I’m all for cost-cutting incentives that can help me shave some pennies off my weekly food shop. I successfully managed to bag a voucher worth the grand total of £1.08 when trying out Asda’s 10% cheaper price guarantee for Which? Convo.

But are the headline-hogging antics of the likes of Asda and Tesco – which hit back with its own price check scheme this month – softening the blow of the rather less PR-friendly rumour that our supermarkets are unreasonably raising prices?

Food prices up and up…

It’s no secret that the cost of food has been going up. But it’s the rate at which food prices in Britain are rising that’s surprising, prompting suggestions that the supermarkets’ are raising prices excessively.

Official figures from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) indicate that food prices in Britain are rising around three times as fast as the rest of Europe.

A separate report by bank UBS examined food pricing trends across a handful of developed nations. The UK, it says, stands out with ‘significantly more consumer food price inflation than elsewhere’ – more than might be reasonably justified by the global pattern of rising food costs, or a weaker pound.

Who took the ‘special’ out of special offers?

So are the supermarkets fuelling food costs with over-the-odds price increases? They would probably argue that in-store discounts, BOGOF offers and price guarantee incentives – which aren’t counted in inflation calculations – are helping their customers get more for their money than the stats suggest.

But food trade publication The Grocer recently found Tesco apparently tinkering with ‘before and after’ prices on a number of products. ‘Tesco said it had reduced the price of its Finest traditional pork sausages 454g from £2.79 to £2.58,’ reported The Grocer. ‘The retailer had been charging £2.59 for this line as recently as 10 January. ‘

And Asda was rapped by advertising watchdog the ASA in February for ‘misleading’ price claims it made while promoting its original price guarantee initiative.

Neither of which fill you confidence that we’re truly being given a good deal.

Is it possible to work the system?

It seems that if you’re prepared to invest a bit of effort in bothering to use these schemes – and then working them to your advantage – there are savings to be made.

Which? Conversation commenter Buyer received a £6.68 voucher after buying just five items using Tesco’s price check, getting double the difference back because the goods were cheaper at Asda. That sounds like shopping research time well spent to me.

Do you feel like you’re getting a good deal, or being ripped off, by your supermarket? Do price guarantee schemes compensate for rising food prices, or are they just clever trickery by supermarkets?


I personally feel I can’t trust anything I see printed in a Tesco’s store. Pack of 2 custard tarts 58p , special offer but 2 for £1.50. And when you try to point it out to a number of tesco employess not one seemed bothered about the poor maths skills being promoted by the supermarket giant.

Also have you noticed how they put a price per unit of items? Items from the same manufacturer will be shown as per price 100g and next to it price per kilo, or per 100 ml next to per litre. I have raised this and yet they still do it. clearly they don;t want to help the consumer.

They’re clearly doing to confuse, as it would take only 1 out of the person at the printers, the person stocking the shelves , the person putting the price tags on to flag it up, yet not one does.

I don’t think they’re doing it simply to confuse, any more than I think you’re complaining simply to be awkward. But I don’t see that it’s all that difficult to compare price per 100 g with price per kilo, or price per 100 ml with price per litre. Now if it was pints, quarts, gallons, ounces, pounds and stones, you’d have a case!

In January, Tesco had a shelf label advertising Seabrook crisps at £1.28 per 6 pack or any 2 for £2.00. That’s fine, but the label also showed “£21.34 per 100g”. If that was correct, these would be the most expensive crisps in the world.

Sorry, this was supposed to go on the Conversation about silly price labels.

I find the way supermarkets over-inflate wine prices purely so they can put them on special offer shocking, but it does highlight the clever psychology of these offers. I’m well aware that a special offer wine that’s reduced from £10 to £5 is probably only worth £5 or £6 and yet I still fall for it and buy them anyway! When you’re trying to get your shopping done quickly it’s hard not to be drawn to the yellow stickers and special price promotions.

To check if a special offer really is that, we need something like uk.camelcamelcamel.com, which monitors the price history of products at Amazon, but for UK supermarkets. And it must be easy to use on a smartphone. Surely someone’s created such an app?

I assume that products on special offer are likely to be sensibly priced and similar products are probably overpriced. Thank goodness that some product ranges seem to escape the special offer game.

Is it just me that has never heard of the wines on Special Offer in our supermarkets?
Aren’t they just playing their marketing game on our ignorance of good wines? Special labels, flashy marketing; bogus reductions, all to sell some mass-produced rubbish wine made from concentrates and anti-freeze! If the “Previous Price” is £8.99 and the Special Offer price is £3.99, with the supermarket STILL making a profit, we should be questioning what on earth we are drinking! DON’T buy it! They laugh in the faces of you who do!

One of the biggest beefs I have with my local Sainsburys is their enormous display of booze – it is at least three times the length of any other product.

In all honesty I never really consider a special offer – unless it is a product that I buy weekly – so I know it’s usual price. In general if it is a usual product and I know the normal price and it is not going to go rotten before I use it – I’ll buy it. I’m fairly good at mental arithmetic so calculating the “saving” or not is no problem

May I point out many companies inflate their prices before sale – to inflate the savings made – so it is not just supermarkets .

RealityCheck42 says:
28 May 2012

Forget special offers, bargains, bogofs, etc, etc. Just ask yourself two questions:
Q1. Do I need that product?
If the answer is ‘no’, walk away;
If the answer is ‘yes’, go to Q2
Q2. Am I prepared to pay that price for that product?
If the answer is ‘no’ walk away;
If the answer is ‘yes’, buy it.
It makes life so much easier!

It’s a good guideline but unfortunately it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Q1. Do I need that product?
I may not need it today, but will need it in the future. So there’s another question to ask yourself: will the price be higher in the future? This is difficult to answer, because you don’t know what it will be – even if it is on special offer today, it may be even cheaper in the future.

Q2. Am I prepared to pay the price?
This depends on how much it costs at other shops. So next question: is it worth the time and effort to find out how much it costs at other shops?

RealityCheck42 says:
29 May 2012

Thanks for the comments Clint.
I only buy what I want now. My house is already full of things that are bound to come in useful sometime.
Shopping around? No way walking around, but may do it on the internet.
Make a list, go into town, buy the things in the first place that meets the Q2 criterion, go home. Job done with minimum of hassle.

Looking in Asda yesterday at their pork I find packages of shoulder and diced pork with just a price on,no weight, no price per kilo or pound, How are we expected to compare prices ?

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I have just online chatted with Marks and Spencer about a free gift with two REN purchases. It is called a REN radiance kit T233573G that is “priced” at £33 but says in the description is worth £22. So why price it at £33, I ask. They don’t know but says that they will “escalate” to “the team” and let me know in 2 weeks. in the meantime they leave it on their website at the inflated price and seem to think it does not matter because it is offered free anyway – is this legal? it seems very misleading.

This comment was removed at the request of the user