Which? reveals dodgy supermarket special offersSupermarkets continue to have misleading deals

18 November 2013

Special offers

Which? has uncovered that some supermarkets are still selling products on dodgy special offers.

Our latest investigation has found products that were sold at the higher price for a short time before being discounted for months. We also uncovered misleading multibuys, where the offer didn’t save you any money, or actually cost more.

Examples of dodgy deals revealed by our investigation include:

  • Ocado sold a 12 pack of Beck’s Bier as ‘was £12.19 now £9’ for almost a month, but had only sold it at £12.19 for three days, 18 days before the offer started.
  • Sainsbury’s sold Carex Aloe Vera & Eucalyptus Moisturising Antibacterial Handwash (250ml) at a higher price of £1.80 for seven days, and then on offer at ‘was £1.80 now 90p’ for 84 days.
  • Asda increased the regular price of Uncle Ben’s rice from £1 to £1.58 as it went onto a ‘2 for £3’ multibuy, then returned it to £1 when the multibuy ended – making it more expensive when it was on offer than when it wasn’t.

You can read our full supermarket special offers investigation in the December issue of Which? magazine. If you're not already a Which? member, sign up for a £1 one month trial to Which? magazine.

To uncover these dodgy deals we used data from the independent shopping website mysupermarket.

The rules about special offers

Official guidance says that special offers shouldn’t be misleading, and any higher price referred to should be a genuine price. Products also shouldn’t be on offer for longer than they are at the higher price. 

But these rules are caveated: they say that what’s reasonable depends on the circumstances. In other cases, putting up a sign that explains how the offer differs from these rules could be enough.

To find out whether the supermarkets are pulling the wool over our eyes, we analysed more than 70,000 grocery prices. From this research we can reveal that some supermarkets are still using special offers that make it look like you’re getting a bargain when you’re not.

We're launching a new campaign to ensure that special offers really are special - you can pledge your support to our special offers campaign.

Your views of special offers

We also surveyed shoppers about special offers and found that they do affect how most of us shop – so it’s crucial they offer genuine savings. 

Eight in 10 people look out for offers in supermarkets, with most saying that they help them to make the most of their budget. 

However, three in 10 have regretted buying products that they only bought because they were on offer. And two fifths believe that offers encourage them to buy products they don’t really need.

The supermarkets highlighted here respond

We challenged the supermarkets to respond to our findings.

Asda said: ‘We take pricing seriously, and we’ve recently employed a new team within the business that looks at all aspects of our pricing process and pricing practices in store and online. Sometimes mistakes can happen, but we would never deliberately mislead our customers – our aim is always to offer the lowest prices for the longest.’

Ocado said: ‘At any one time we have several thousand promotions which require an element of human interaction. This can, in isolated incidents, lead to human error. We are investigating the price history of these products, but would never try to mislead our customers in any way. We are making continuous improvements, but believe that we generally get it right.’

Sainsbury's said: 'We sincerely apologise to our customers; with 50,000 products we occasionally make mistakes, such as on these three items. We are absolutely committed to fair and transparent promotions and carry out regular audits and thorough training on this.’

For more about the supermarkets, how they score in our annual customer satisfaction survey and for the results of previous investigations visit our review, supermarkets compared.

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