Consumer watchdog Which? has called out supermarket retailers for misleading and confusing pricing tactics and dodgy deals which are being increasingly used in the battle to woo price-conscious consumers away from discount retailers.
Around 40 per cent of groceries (by revenue) in Great Britain are currently sold on promotions and Which? has claimed to have consistently identified a range tactics being used “to create the illusion of savings”.
It stated that supermarkets are “manipulating consumer spending by misleading people into choosing products they may not have chosen if they knew the full facts.”
The organisation’s executive director, Richard Lloyd, said shoppers think they’re getting a bargain but in reality it’s impossible for any consumer to know if they’re genuinely getting a fair deal.
Ocado was among the retailers called out for its use of seasonal offers.
“We found a Nestle Kit Kat Chunky Collection Giant Egg was advertised at £7.49 for just 10 days in January at Ocado, but then sold on offer at £5 for 51 days (2015),” it reported.
Meanhwhile Waitrose was blasted for its use of higher ‘was’ prices – where the item has been available for longer at the lower prices – after finding that Heston from Waitrose Acacia Honey & Ginger Hot Cross Buns were advertised at £1.50 for 12 days before going on offer at “£1.12 was £1.50” for 26 days (2015).
Waitrose later apologised, saying "this was an honest and isolated mistake", and that it would investigate.
Asda was also found guilty of promoting misleading multi-buy offers. For example, the retailer increased the price of a Chicago Town Four Cheese Pizza Two-Pack from £1.50 to £2 as it went onto multi-buy at two for £3. It went back to £1.50 as the ‘offer’ ended (2014).
Finally, some Tesco ‘larger pack better value’ offers where not as they seemed. Tesco sold four cans of Green Giant Original Sweetcorn for £2 (was £2.44), but six cans were proportionately more expensive, at £3.56. That’s despite the fact the larger pack said ‘special value’ (2014).
Such practices make supermarket price match schemes – such as Morrison’s Match&More – for a basket of goods more difficult to compare, as the range and types of products on offer can make accurate price matching impossible to achieve.
“We’re saying enough is enough and using one of the most powerful legal weapons in our armoury to act on behalf of consumers by launching a super-complaint to the regulator,” said Lloyd. “We want an end to misleading pricing tactics and for all retailers to use fair pricing that people can trust.”
Under the Enterprise Act 2002, Which? has submitted its first ever ‘super-complaint’ to demand action from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).