/ Money, Shopping

If the full price tag’s a farce, what makes special offers special?

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up a sign explaining their offer, for instance ‘this was at the higher price for seven days’, or if something is going out of date.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?


If not off-topic in saying it here, I notice the peanut butter I bought at LIdl has its roasted peanut content
reduced by 2% which results in an altogether more inferior diluted product but being still charged at the same price…guess I’ll have to go back to making peanut butter from scratch AND certainly NOT buy from Lidl anymore this now watered-down stuff. The change in taste is very noticeable, believe me.
Slimy and oily!

Being in the business of s******g as much as possible from the consumer, I don’t trust supermarkets at all in the way they deceptively price things and this includes upmarket Waitrose as to even their basic so-called ‘essentials’ range as to in particular content deficiencies of a tin of stuff I had bought. The number of fruits therein has gone down without a matching decrease in price. On the contrary, was actually up from 51 pence a year ago to 63p now.

Anthony Wood says:
8 November 2011

I live alone and find that 2 bags of potatoes or most fresh food BOGOF’s are too much for me to use within a reasonable time so I take advantage of the offers and pass the “free” item to anyone nearby who might appreciate it. This action seems to worry the cashiers but it seems they can think of no reason to object.


Supermarkets must think special offers work, just take the current round of Tesco’s 50% off special offers on the tv at the moment. Not one individual price is listed, just the fact that the items are 50% off.

About time the regulators got a good kick up the ………


Lidl sells 4 x 130 g (dr wt) cans of tuna at £4.00, reduced from £5.39….
and next to them, individual cans at 66p each…. what do they take us for?
…… idiots buying at the higher price?

Ken Grahame says:
15 April 2012

I know this has all been explored some time ago, but I couldn’t resist reporting this one I saw in ASDA yesterday.
In their “home baked” section is a “promotion” to buy “3 items for £1.50”. This included a shelf full of items priced at only 35p each!! I could buy more than FOUR for their “special price” for 3!!
(Also, so much for their “reducing mutibuy options” – when they have a whole WALL full of this “offer”)

Ken Grahame says:
19 April 2012

Another sneaky one I saw yesterday in ASDA – although I don’t know whether the pricing structure is unique to them, or if it’s a con originating from the company. Nevertheless, it’s a classic con!

Ginsters Cornish Pasty – £1.28 (for 227grams)
OR – just next to them –
TWO Cornish Pasties (in a “double pack”) – only £1.63 – GREAT!
EXCEPT, the “double” pack only contains 260 grams!!
I would also add that the “double” pack appeared to be double the volume, but on closer inspection, containes a good deal of vacant space in the pack.

If you (a) spot the disparity in weight, and then (b) do the maths – even a rough calculation will do – you are being TRICKED, (I can think of no more polite word, but a good many less polite ones), as it really isn’t unreasonable to expect better value for bulk-buying.

But WHEN is something going to be done to STOP these cons???

John says:
12 July 2013

I shop every week at Tesco, but recently have started to experiment elsewhere. The plethora of offers is now so irritating that I cannot see myself continuing to use them. Offers like buy one for £1.75 or two for £2:00 simply indicate to me that buying one overpriced item is not good value and buying tow means I will probably simply add to my level of waste. The result: increasingly, I just don’t buy at all. When this was the occasional item, I could ignore it, but it is now so rife that it is hard to find a genuinely priced single item. Come on Tesco. Do you really think we are so naive to think that one item at £1.75 is a genuine price if you can add another for 25p?