As food prices rise we’re all looking for bargains. But what if special offers aren’t all they seem and food was being sold at half price for weeks after only days at the higher price? Well that’s exactly what we’ve found.
We bought a basket of goods in Asda, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose every week for three months, as well as tracking wines online. Why? To see if special offers could mislead consumers.
We found strawberries, cherries and raspberries sold at half price, that we either never managed to buy at the “full” price or that were only at the higher price for a week. We also found a wine that was discounted for 12 weeks out of 14.
What’s so important about this is the way special offers affect our shopping habits. Nearly 60% of Which? members say that they swap items they were intending to buy for those on special offer. Certain types of special offers, such as multibuys, are also causing some of us to throw out food, which is a waste of money – and bad for the environment.
Pricing guidelines are too vague
So why are they allowed to do this? There are government guidelines intended to ensure any offers are a good deal. These say that an item should be at the higher price for 28 days before being on offer. And, overall, it shouldn’t be on offer for longer than it was at the higher price.
However, supermarkets don’t have to do either of these if they put up a sign explaining their offer, for instance ‘this was at the higher price for seven days’, or if something is going out of date. The rules also say that what’s reasonable will depend on the individual circumstances. This means that even offers we felt weren’t good enough were still potentially compliant with the rules.
I for one am certainly not going around the supermarkets after work reading the small print on shelf edges in order to work out if I think a special offer is a good deal. And I don’t think you should have to track the price of food week on week to work this out either.
What do you think? Do you think special offers are generally good value? Do you end up buying stuff you didn’t intend to?