The special offers that don’t stack up

Following our super-complaint to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) last month we have found further evidence of dodgy special offers and some that appear to be breaking government guidelines.

As part of Which?’s campaign to Put an End to Misleading Pricing, supported by more than 60,000 people, our latest research shows further evidence of pricing practices used by retailers to create the illusion of savings that don’t exist and manipulate consumers’ spending. Two thirds (68%) of shoppers say they’d bought grocery items on a discount offer in the past month, while six in 10 (60%) had bought items on multibuy.

We’ve found pricing practices which we believe are potentially flouting Government guidelines. For example, continuing offers where products are on offer longer than they were sold at the higher price. This makes it look like you’re getting a discount, when actually the lower ‘discount’ price is probably a more accurate reflection of the value of the product. We found Pepsi Max (2 litres) was sold at £1.98 in Morrisons for 28 days but then went on a £1 ‘was £1.98’ offer for 63 days. Garnier Ambre Solaire Clear Protect Spray SPF 15 (200ml) was sold at £14.99 in Superdrug for 63 days, then £7.49 or £7.48 (‘was £14.99’) for 167 days.

Other pricing practices of concern are:

  • Misleading multibuy​s​ – Products on multibuy offers which didn’t save customers any money or, in some cases ended up costing more. For example, Asda increased the price of Robinsons Orange Fruit Squash (1 litre) from £1 to as much as £1.59 while on ‘2 for £2.50’, creating the illusion of a saving but actually costing shoppers 50p more when buying it on offer. It also increased the price of L’Oréal Paris Elvive Nutri Gloss Shine Shampoo (250ml) from £2 to £2.89 while on ‘2 for £4’.
  • Shrinking products – We found more evidence of shrinking products which are a sneaky way of increasing prices. For example, a box of 100 Twinings Assam tea bags was £4.40 in Tesco but when the pack shrunk to 80, the price increased costing £4.49. In Sainsbury’s the price of the tea bags remained the same (£4.50) despite the loss of 20 tea bags.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said:

“Retailers are continuing to pull the wool over shoppers’ eyes with dodgy discounts that just don’t stack up. Our super-complaint has the backing of tens of thousands of concerned shoppers and is calling on the regulator to take action to put an end to misleading pricing practices.”

Our super-complaint to Put an End to Misleading Pricing, is calling on the CMA to take action against:

  • confusing and misleading special offers;
  • a lack of easily comparable prices because of the way unit pricing is being done; and
  • shrinking pack sizes without any corresponding price reduction.

Notes to editors

  1. Which? submitted a super-complaint to the Competition and Markets Authority about misleading supermarket pricing practices on 21 April 2015. More details on the super-complaint can be found here.
  2. 63,320 people have supported our super-complaint to the regulator. Sign up and pledge your support
  3. We used data from independent shopping website to find examples of pricing practices used by retailers from January 2014 to April 2015
  4. 2,075 UK adults were interviewed online between 18th and 19th March 2015. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of the UK population.
  5. Government guidelines set out how retailers should use special offers, and flouting those guidelines could potentially put a shop in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.The guidelines say that what’s reasonable for a special offer depends on the circumstances, so it’s ultimately for the courts to decide whether rules have been broken in each individual case.
  6. Find out how you can complain about a dodgy deal or misleading multibuy by visiting our Consumer Rights website.

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