Do you love special offers or hate being sucked in? In a survey of Which? members, we found that 50% of them don’t trust supermarket special offers and, according to our latest research, they could have good reason to be suspicious…
We took a snapshot look at the online prices of 223 of the most popular discounted branded products and found that some of the special offers advertised by supermarkets aren’t as good as they seem. This is despite new guidelines for supermarkets that were introduced as a result of a Which? super-complaint in 2015.
Following our super-complaint to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), we were promised that supermarkets would become more transparent in their pricing methods. However, is this happening across the board?
We used data from the independent shopping website MySupermarket to scrutinise deals on online grocery products offered by Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose, Ocado and Iceland.
Some of the offers we saw seemed misleading and broke government guidelines, which say supermarket offers must compare genuine prices and offer real savings or better value. Our investigation found three types of offer.
This was the first type of offer that we found. Ever noticed that a product you buy is almost constantly on offer? We found examples that showed products sold at a ‘special’ price for up to 333 days a year, only spending 32 days at their ‘normal’ price.
What’s the problem? These ‘special’ prices become the norm, which means that when they are sold for full price you’ll fork out more than you should. Plus, the constant special offer labelling may be persuading you to routinely choose a product that’s not necessarily giving you the best value for money.
The second type of offer we found was misleading multibuys. We’ve studied multibuys for years and, as we found in a March 2017 article, they are on the decline – but these seem to still around in some form.
Some items go up in price just in time for a multibuy offer, which means shoppers end up spending more money than they would have the day before, despite thinking they are saving.
If you’ve seen something advertised using ‘was’ and ‘now’ prices but can’t remember seeing it sold at that price, you won’t be surprised to find that sometimes products are sold with a ‘was’ price that hasn’t been seen for over a month.
This misleading practice makes you think you’ve got a better price than last time when that’s not the case.
Being a savvy shopping
We’ve looked at the psychology of special offers and how supermarkets use clever tricks to affect our shopping behaviour.
Some of the most common tactics are large stacks of items that interrupt your path as you walk into a shop, signs that break up the flow of an aisle as you scan it and seemingly dwindling piles that give a false sense of urgency.
We’ve shared our latest findings with the CMA, if you’ve spotted any dubious deals then let us know. Do you find yourself tempted by special offers, or are you a more sceptical shopper?