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Win! CMA takes Asda to task on dodgy special offers

special offers

Is the end in sight for misleading supermarket offers? Today the CMA has announced that it has called on supermarkets to review promotional pricing practices.

You may well recall that last April we made a super-complaint to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on issues we have seen for many years – supermarkets using dodgy and misleading pricing tactics.

The CMA has since embarked on a further investigation into pricing tactics, and in a huge win for our campaign, the regulator has announced today that it’s taken Asda to task and secured a formal legal commitment that the supermarket will change its pricing practices.

Asda has been found breaking the rules and now must immediately clean up their act by August.

Dodgy special offers

With your help, we’ve been drawing attention to these misleading pricing tactics used by supermarkets for the last eight years. Asda has come up many times in our investigations, and you also told us about dodgy offers you’ve spotted.

In 2011, Asda started cropping up in our investigations and we exposed such tactics as products being on offer longer than they are at their so-called “real” price, and multi-buys that don’t add up to savings.

For example in our investigation in June 2015 we found Hovis Medium Sliced Soft White Bread (800g) was being sold at £1 (‘was £1.20’) in Asda, even though the price before the offer started was £1, and the product hadn’t been sold at £1.20 for 116 days.

Next steps

It’s not over yet, the battle continues for our campaign as we still fight to end downright dodgy offers and misleading pricing tactics with other retailers.

This problem is one that extends further than supermarkets. Our super-complaint and actions taken by the authorities should serve as a clear warning to all retailers. If they try to pull the wool over consumers’ eyes they will not get away with it. Retailers must get their house in order.

So have you seen a dodgy deal or misleading pricing tactic in another sector? We know about problems with electrical retailers, furniture stores and holiday/flight pricing – tell us if you’ve spotted any others that are breaking the rules.


ASDA in Keighley put on so called offers on whiskas cat food but if you look carefully they have put the price up from the week before
Also meat and chicken is a big rip off

I’ve been having a long-running dialogue with Sainsbury’s on Innocent juice which comes in 2 sizes 0.9L and 1.3L. Unit costs were quoted for one item but not for the multipack versions. Working out which was the better buy was beyond mental arithmetic. After complaining, they stopped multipacks, but the prices have been going up and down weekly – sometimes 0.9L cheaper than 1.3L size. Costs vary from 16.7 to 27 p/100mL. Further complaint has elicited the following reply- We regularly review our prices to make sure we offer value for money whilst remaining competitive. Although we try to keep our pricing as low as possible sometime prices can go up as well as down. The prices we can offer are directly linked to our costs to source, transport and supply products. On this occasion we’ve maintained the lower £2.50 price for as long as possible and have now had to review this resulting in the increase. Who are they kidding?

Alan Lockley says:
30 April 2016

Last two weeks, same size coffee, two different places, two different prices. Checkout at the highest. Told customer services but not changed in a week. Not ASDA.

It would be handy if our local ASDA-Bedminster, Bristol would do something about stopping their customers taking their shopping away in shopping trolleys which then end up dumped all round our neighbourhood. They make NO effort sat all.

buck says:
1 May 2016

Asda Huddersfield,
Lattice crisps two weeks ago £1 , this week £1.98……. like them, but not that much.

They take us for mugs; and sadly enough of us are.

The whole range of marketing is to complex…with the so called offers ,it takes time with a pocket calculator to actually work out if things really are a good deal.Sometimes they are really good deals…but when they are not ….you feel like it is a con trick.

D J Matthews says:
1 May 2016

Its yet another example of the con artists running the big chains trying to make every consumer become a maths genius. Why can’t the laws be tightened to outlaw these practises

Bridget Clements says:
2 May 2016

On several occasions,I have also found Morrisons supermarket, using questionable practices, in placing items on display, above a cheaper price. The item at the cheaper price will be near, or next to the one which has the wrong price underneath.

I ask everyone to always check their receipts, as on a few occasions I have found an item wrongly priced and when I point it out I have to stand in another queue to have it checked then when I am correct these is no apology given and I have to sign a form to receive my money back that they made the mistake in the first place its very annoying especially the no apology .( Morrisons Glasgow)

Hello, a little update this morning on misleading Asda multi-buys.

An investigation by the Advertising Standards Agency found that packs of Asda’s Choco Squares cereal were sold at 97p for around six months until July 5 2015. The price of this cereal then rose by 42% to £1.38 on July 6 2015. On the 7 July the supermarket launched its three packs for £3 multi-buy, meaning shoppers would’ve been paying 9p more than if they had purchased the cereal before the 5 July.

More information can be found here: https://www.asa.org.uk/Rulings/Adjudications/2016/5/ASDA-Stores-Ltd/SHP_ADJ_309400.aspx#.Vym4NoQrLcs

I noted the ASA’s action : “The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told ASDA Stores Ltd to ensure their future promotions did not mislead about the savings consumers could achieve.” It will be interesting to keep a check on compliance with this. I always think these things are worse coming from ASDA because so much of their marketing effort over the past decade has been put into building up an impression that it offers a cheaper shopping basket than their rivals and is the home of value [and it pats itself on its bottom to demonstrate that].

Interestingly these price changes all happened in the same month that the Competition and Markets Authority warned against artificially inflating prices to make promotions seem more attractive…

I support the continued efforts of Which? to tackle misleading prices. Unfortunately, supermarkets will continue to encourage us to believe that their special offers are worthwhile even if they are not. Looking at unit prices is the best way to compare prices but despite the Which? super-complaint we still have multi-buys that do not show the unit price of the product on offer.

@ldeitz, It’s a pity we don’t have active and approachable Trading Standards to whom the public can refer misleading deals and have them stopped, and maybe the store prosecuted.

However we must be careful not to let deliberately misleading deals be used as a weapon to prevent decent transparent deals being offered.

As I understand it this was not about unit prices (were they properly displayed, Lauren?) but about artificially inflating a price on a unit item and them producing an offer on multiple items that made them look attractive. This, I think, CMA either deprecated or sought to ban. It is dishonest.

The offer is shown in this article and the unit price is not shown: http://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/may/04/choco-squares-deal-contravened-advertising-rules-asda-told

I can do mental arithmetic but sadly many struggle. That’s why we need unit prices on all products in multi-buy offers. Those who don’t use them can ignore the unit prices.

It was interesting to note the timing of this malpractice. Supermarkets will use the psychology of selling according to the product and the time of the year to take advantage of consumers choices. For example, prices will increase according to consumer demand, often determined by the weather. To illustrate this phenomenon, logg onto: weatherunlocked.com – How Weather Affects Consumer Behaviour and Purchase

Whether (pardon the pun!) Asda are more likely to sell more choco cereal during the month of July I can only guess, but I would speculate this would have some bearing on their decision to attempt to deceive all but the astute Which? team of hawk eyes.

My grievance is multiple offers
buy 2 for ‘such a price ‘
Usually almost half !
my husband & I are retired and realise as just two of us now at home we don’t need quantity we just need a lower price for one item !
And we certainly don’t want three fresh fruit juices for the price of two !

These “Manufactured” before prices are just a ruse and should be outlawed.

They are a selling tool to encourage people to sign on the day. I have worked for four of these top companies and have written a book about it for consumers. It is called The Sting in the Sale and reveals all of the tactics that they use. I was at the conference for one of those companies when they announced the half price sale and then took away our price lists and gave us one that was double the price.

R Severne says:
21 May 2016

Yes, I feel very annoyed when I have to pay much more for just one item, I am beginning to leave it, in protest, so if we all did that, it might make them change their tactics .

i agree there are to pricey

When products are on multibuys it makes it very confusing to work out the ‘resulting’ value of price per gram. We only see it stated for a ‘singular’ purchase, but customers can’t work it out on a multibuy. This important information should be clearly visible, so we can work out if it really is good deal (or not). For example on Whiskas cat food pouches, which are sold in different size boxes of 6, 12 and 40. They can all be on different offers, and it really is IMPOSSIBLE to work out the best deal unless you are a mathematician.

Shelagh Shiers says:
6 June 2016

I have always made a point of checking price per gram or price per ml to get the best value

Stop the market from exploiting the unknowing

Bruce summers says:
9 June 2016

Has anyone else noticed tescos pricing policy on pre-packed meat? They attempt to class it as priced per kilo but change the price per kilo depending on size, ie 250g of mince is advertised at £8/kg but exact same mince in a 500g pack is £6/kg

That looks like a bulk-buying discount to me, and that thanks to helpful unit-pricing we can make an informed judgment on which pack to buy if our sole concern is the better value.

John is right, Bruce. Here is official advice: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/445633/Unit_pricing_-_information_for_consumers.pdf

Unit prices are there to help us and sometimes show that the larger pack works out more expensive.