/ Shopping

Do you pay attention to supermarket price matching schemes?

Shopping trolley whizzing through supermarket

Your supermarket shopping receipt says: ‘We’ve compared prices with our rivals, and you saved money by shopping here.’ But do supermarkets’ price-match schemes have any influence on where you shop?

If you shop at Asda, Ocado, Sainsbury’s or Tesco, you’re probably familiar with the idea of price matching – where the supermarket gives you a voucher if your shopping would have been cheaper elsewhere.

Food prices are a big worry for many of us, and by giving out these vouchers supermarkets can reassure you that you’re getting a good deal, and encourage you to keep shopping with them.

Most of the Which? members we surveyed see price matching as a good thing – only 31% of you said you don’t pay any attention to price match schemes, while less than one in five say supermarkets shouldn’t bother with them. And more than half say it reassures them that prices are cheaper or comparable at the supermarket they’re shopping at.

But with each supermarket able to set the terms of its price comparison, shoppers aren’t always getting a full picture.

Who’s really cheapest?

Our research shows that there are a lot of different ways to measure who’s cheapest out of Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco. The supermarkets who include own-label products in their comparisons have to wrestle with thorny questions about whether products with slightly different ingredients or styles of packaging are ‘comparable’ or not.

Supermarkets also have different rules about whether or not to include products that are slightly different sizes – so even some branded products might be included in one comparison but not the other.

So although supermarkets will claim they’re cheaper than their rivals in the majority of cases, you should take these claims with a pinch of salt.

Vouchers benefit supermarkets too

It’s worth remembering the benefit price-match vouchers offer to supermarkets as well. They give you a reason to return to the supermarket – usually at little cost to them. For the 59 shopping trips we analysed, the vouchers our shoppers received offered an average discount of £1.45. Worth using if you’re planning to visit that supermarket anyway, but for me at least, that would be too small to make it worth a special trip.

What do you think about supermarket price-matching schemes – do they factor into your decision about where to shop? How could they be improved? And what are your top tips for saving money on your grocery shopping?


I usually forget to give last week’s voucher at the checkout until I’ve paid, and then they give me another voucher to use next week which reminds me about the one I forgot to use. Then it’s usually too late.

Dave Jenkins says:
7 November 2016

This happens to me all the time mate, them thugs at the till really scare me.

I shop at Sainsburys because it is close – cheap – and I like the food – It always gives me the comparison discounts without asking – The others do not. So I shop at Sainsbury – but if the others were better I’d shop there – but they are not

I shop at Asda because it is the nearest.

I find checking the price guarantee just shows me that supermarkets stock different brands to avoid comparisons, eg one shop stocks Kingsmill seeded bread, another will stock Warburtons, and a third Allinsons etc, so they are not included in the price match.

Also if there is any weight difference eg 500 g of fruit, or 600g of fruit this is also not included.
They are all doing it, and doing it deliberately

We do our main shopping at Sainsburys for the reasons given by Rchard – except it is the farthest food shop from us. Yesterday I did a top-up shop at Tesco for certain specific products. It is only a ten-minute walk away and there are other facilities nearby. On a £29.92 shop I “saved ” £2.12 compared to shopping at the rivals. That is entirely because I selected only the brands that were on offer. If it had been convenient to go to Sainsburys I would probably have selected equivalent alternative brands and made similar “savings”.

I never bother with them, regardless of how excited the cashier is when they tell me you’ve saved £3.21 this shop. I just restrict myself to buying what I need that’s cheaper in the store that week.

I tend to buy in bulk and most supermarkets don’t cover multiples of the same item, so buying 9 or 10 of one item and nothing else, won’t get me a voucher anyway. So I just buy it from wherever is cheapest.

This price comparison is a waste of time and paper. I’d wager that most of these bits of paper issued at the checkout are either binned or forgotten about by thousands of customers. Far better to stop the atrocious waste of food by these large supermarkets, (especially Tesco). When they have a pile of ‘reduced’ items on offer they seem to knock such a small percentage off that the food just stays unsold – and then it’s chucked away later.

I am sure that managing these massive food sheds is a difficult job but surely it’s worth getting rid of short-dated stock at worthwhile bargain prices instead of trying to still make some profit. There is NO profit to be made by throwing it all away.

We don’t let any marketing ploy affect what we buy. We write a list and go to the supermarket we prefer. If we get a price matching voucher I stuff it in my wallet and remember to use it next time we shop at that supermarket. It’s nice to know we couldn’t have shopped more cheaply elsewhere, but that doesn’t make any difference to our behaviour. For us price matching vouchers are a real bonus – for once.

I cannot believe the amount of gullible fools that are out there thinking that any of Tesco’s, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, etc are “cheaper” than others within the same group. As “p” said above, they all price-fix (sorry, “price-match”) and lull gullible foolish consumers into thinking they are getting a good deal. All they really do is have different offers on different products so you can never compare like for like meaningfully. Across 10 or so products, some supermarkets will have offers on 2 or 3 of those products or be cheaper outright and across the other products, they will be more expensive. So, they know that you will not save that much at a rival and probably not every single week – so all this Price Match stuff and getting money back at the till are all gimmicks. You should shop for what you buy at the place where those items are cheapest but who has time to go to 3 or 4 different supermarkets (unless you are cross-checking across them all on mysupermarket.com which I find very useful indeed especially the Price Alerts via email)?
I spend a lot of time checking prices and seeing where is cheaper for the items that I want to buy. I know that a lot of people don’t have the time or inclination to shop around and look for the best deals (or for ANY deals) but in the end, it’s their loss and the supermarket’s gain. Anyway, what I have found is that Asda are generally cheaper across fruits&vegetables and the majority of other items (but not all) – I don’t know how they manage their current “guaranteed 10% cheaper” promotion. Sainsbury’s are the worst at almost everything (confirmed in the Grocer magazine and Convenience Store magazine) and I avoid them completely. Tesco’s aren’t much better than them so I tend to avoid them also. I shop primarily at local fruit&veg shops/markets and also Lidl and Iceland – especially for the essentials. Here are some examples of items that I buy which you can compare to the extortionate prices the majority of you probably pay at bigger supermarkets with much, much bigger spending power and pressure put on their respective suppliers i.e. they source cheaper but by the time the end consumer pays for the item, the price has rocketed and all that profit goes to the bigwigs at Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s or shareholders. Waitrose prices are higher on the whole (apart from their Essentials and Tesco price-match items) but their profits are shared amongst their employees who are “partners” in the John Lewis Partnership – I like this and I also like their quality and atmosphere in their stores but I don’t shop there much at all because I prefer cheaper alternatives. Examples for Lidl/Iceland: milk (always been £1 for 4 pints – at Iceland too); cheese (cheddar – often £3.79 for 1kg or £3.50 for 2x400g; £5 for 1kg at Iceland – sometimes reduced); good quality chocolates (35p-45p for 100g, 90-99p for 200g) – these are constantly “on offer” at weekends at just 17p for 100g(!!) and the quality is really good; 3 pack of peppers (99p; 1 red, 1 yellow, 1 green – large size); brocolli (89p for 500g; often reduced to 69p); natural yoghurt (45p for 500g); Rowan bakery wholemeal bread (50p for 800g loaf); spaghetti hoops (4 tins for 60p!!!). These examples are items I buy regularly – not too sure about other prices but their weekly leaflets are online. I really hope people start shopping around in their local fruit&veg shops, markets, discount/”cheaper” shops (Lidl/Aldi, Iceland, 99p stores, etc) so that the big, greedy supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury’s lose market share and are FORCED to reduce their prices. These two supermarkets particularly are everywhere (probably due to backhanders to local councils) and choke the local small businesses to extinction when they start up in a new area. In most areas, people don’t have a choice and are forced to shop in one of these two greedy supermarkets. And don’t get me started on the “2 for 1s”, “BOGOFs”, “50% off”, etc – I’m sure you all know they are just another way to cheat consumers by charging double for a few days and then running the “offer” to trick gullible consumers…..problem is they all do it! Rant over….!

Which? along with a lot of other people seem to be missing the biggest point about price matching. That is the more you buy in a single transaction, the worse deal you get. Let’s say you buy 3 bottles of branded gin at Sainsburys, you might get a voucher for £1.50 off your next shop as the gin is sold cheaper at Asda. Next day, you buy 12 bottles of tonic, this is actually £1.50 cheaper at Sainsburys, so no voucher just a ticket congratulating you on how much you’ve saved. If you had bought the gin and tonic together, the calculations would have cancelled each other out, so you get no money off your next shop. The more you buy, the more likely price differences will work against each other, make the deal less beneficial to you, and surprise surprise work in the supermarket’s favour. No, I haven’t been on the gin, it is just maths.

One thing that the report in the Nov issue of which hasn’t picked up on is the way that Sainsburys con people out of money in their Brand Match.
If you buy a branded item that has been reduced by JS for instance because the sell by date is imminent, they will use the reduced price in their comparison against Tesco & Asda.
Eg my example was Warburtons fruit loaf reduced from £1.20 to 89p. The 89p was then compared with Tesco full retail price of £1.20 and JS intimated that they were 31p cheaper than Tesco in their Brand Match calculation and offset the 31p against the other items where JS was more expensive.
When I raised this with JS they fobbed me off saying that the system wasn’t able to cope with it and after a couple of emails in which I continued to explain that they were comparing chalk & cheese I realised I was banging my head against a brick wall.
I wonder if Which can get any more sense out of them?

Peter Whitlock says:
28 October 2013

The best advice that I can give is shop at Aldi (or Lidl). They are much cheaper than the big supermarkets with or without price matching schemes and the quality is just as good. I did my own research on this when an Aldi opened near me by pricing up my real basket of items with a full comparison adjusting for pack sizes etc. Aldi worked out 18% cheaper than Tesco in my own comparison. There are always a few things that I still buy from Tesco or Sainsburys because for example there is an own brand product that I like or due to vouchers or multibuys. What irks me is that Sainsburys thinks that their 4 pints of milk is not comparable to Tescos 4 pints of milk. For comparison today 4 pints of semi-skimmed milk is £1.29 at Sainsburys, £1.39 at Tesco BUT is £1 as Aldi!

Budgetshopper says:
30 November 2013

None of the major supermarkets price-match against Aldi or Lidl which are significantly cheaper, and where we do 80% of our food and grocery shopping. After this we head for Poundland, Savers and Wilkinsons, using the major supermarkets and M&S only for items not available elsewhere or for e few offers and treats.
We used to do 80% of our weekly shop at Asda but hardly go there at all now as they have given up trying to compete against the discounters. They only seem interested in people buying a trolley-load and/or having their shopping delivered (you have to go on-line to price-match your min. 10 items and print your voucher yourself).
Particularly since Waitrose entered the fray, one tactic that supermarkets use to get out of price- matching is to stop stocking the item. For example Tesco used to sell a 33cl bottle of Liefmans Fruitesse beer for £1.69 but when Waitrose started selling it at £1.49 Tesco initially matched the price but then simply stopped selling this product completely. Tesco in turn sell another 33cl bottled Belgian (wheat) fruit beer called Fruili which no-one else stocks so can charge a higher price for it as they do not have to price match.
My advice – if there’s an Aldi or Lidl near you, go there and don’t worry about voucher schemes.

CB says:
18 July 2014

Sainsburys is much more expensive than tesco. Many of the own brands have gone up a lot eg baked beans 30p in Tesco,Aldi and Asda only 24p. Similarly for tinned peas and many other items! I’ve just used a site called supermarkets.co.uk a price comparison site and sainsburys come out more expensive very time! Anyone know why this is?

John says:
18 July 2014

Sainsbury’s is ALWAYS the most expensive because they have openly said they will not be bringing down their extortionate prices to match those of Lidl and Aldi. Tesco and Morrisons have brought down SOME of their extortionate prices so that they can get back market share. I NEVER shop at Sainsbury’s on principle. If I can buy the same things cheaper elsewhere, why would I go to Sainsbury’s? I always buy my fruit and veg from independents or Aldi/Lidl as they are much cheaper. I am lucky to have quite a choice where I live though (Ilford, Essex).
The problem is some people don’t have a choice because some supermarkets have sprung up (or kept some of their prices low for a while) until such time as they have driven all the other independents (corner shops, butchers, bakers, greengrocers, etc) out of business – then they raise their prices up again. Bunch of cheats!

LuluH says:
7 May 2015

Three weeks ago at Sainsburys, I bought a lemon and thyme fresh chicken crown for £4 and it had a white price ticket price on the shelf for this item. One week ago, my brother bought one of these and it had increased to £5 (white price ticket again). Low and behold, today (7 May) they have reduced these to £4 on a red reduction ticket so that it looks like they have reduced the price for the benefit of the customers. Watch out for red reduction tickets as you will find if you purchase an item regularly, they will put up the price for a time and then reduce it back to what it was before.

Great observation of supermarket “fowl play” – thanks for sharing your experience LuluH! 🙂 All these comments are really appreciated and will be shared with the relevant teams here at Which?.

LuluH says:
7 May 2015

Is it only me that has noticed that Sainsburys has removed loads of items from their shelves from other producers. Most of the items on the shelves now are there own brand and one other producer. There is now less choice. Turkey rashers were on sale as they were low fat and because they were outselling their own brand, they stopped selling them. This happened with Brannigans jacket potatoes. These were 2/3 the price of their own and all of a sudden, there is only Sainsburys own jacket potatoes as a choice. Also, their own Balance 500g cereal is £2 in the main sainsburys stores, yet in the small stores they are £2.20p! and the box is smaller. The prices of goods in the smaller local stores have rocketed up and as a consequence, everyone is abandoning these. My local one used to be very busy, now you go in there and there seems to be hardly anyone in there. This is why there out of town stores are failing and of course after noticing all this, they then announce their losses nationwide. Upping prices is possibly not the best tactic.

My unscientific observations suggest that Tesco have been de-listing a number of branded products for several weeks now. They are still stocking products from the same big brands but from a narrower range of lines in each case and they are re-positioning their own-label products to increase sales at the expense of national brands.

It seems to me as well that Tesco’s price-matching scheme is running out of steam. They can no longer claim that their prices overall are lower than their major competitors’ prices. Until the end of last year it was quite common to get a £3-5 voucher [or better] on a £100 basket. I would say that the value of the redemption has now halved or worse. If anything, Tesco’s prices are consistently higher than Asda’s across the range and the price-match, while technically correct, is cetainly not producing much in the way of savings.

It is interesting that Tesco have also changed the T&C’s on their price-match vouchers so that they are not eligible for redemption on the same day: you have to return on another occasion in order to cash in your voucher. This is an attempt to secure a return visit by customers who might otherwise have done a little bit of extra shopping on the same day in order to redeem a decent voucher. With the vouchers becoming less valuable this is now pretty irrelevant – customers won’t go back just for £1.50 if they can save more somewhere else, and they’ve still got the voucher in their purse if and when they do return to Tesco.

At my local big Tesco they have a tolley at the entrance laden with big-brand products with price reductions. I have noticed that the number of items in the trolley has reduced considerably since this campaign started after Christmas 2014. Furthermore, the reductions on the branded products seem to be getting smaller. There is a curious placard on this trolley that says “Now Cheaper at Tesco”. Does this mean “Now cheaper at Tesco than previously at Tesco”? Or does it mean “Now cheaper at Tesco than at other major supermarkets”? Probably the former, but even that claim is looking increasingly dubious.

R Partington says:
27 February 2017

Petrol prices today Monday 27th February:
Asda Kinmel Bay: 116.9
3 miles away, Sainsburys Rhyl: 121.9
Sugar 1kg;
Lidl and Aldi: 49p
Sainsbury`s 79p

These are just two examples of where Sainsburys is expensive and I could cite many more.
For example: they recently replaced their own brand 680 gram jars of golden syrup at £1.25
with 325 gram plastic tubes costing exactly the same, ie a hidden price rise of well over 100%.

God help anyone who has to buy most of their shopping at Sainsburys.