Revealed: the special offers that cost you moneyShops appear to be breaking government guidelines

20 May 2015

Our latest probe into the murky world of so-called special offers has shown that some retailers are still peddling deals that appear to break government guidelines.

Once again we’ve uncovered examples of deals from Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury's and Tesco that we think are dodgy. And supermarkets aren’t the only ones doing this – we’ve also uncovered questionable offers from Boots and Superdrug.

The full findings of our investigation into dodgy special offers appears in the June issue of Which? magazine (Which? members can read online through their 'My account' section). Our photo gallery below also shows some of the dodgy deals we've uncovered.

Dodgy special offers uncovered

Government guidelines set out how retailers should use special offers that aren't misleading and ensure they're complying with the law. We've pinpointed three ways in which shops appeared to be breaking the guidelines:

  • Running a special offer for longer than the higher ‘was’ price was in effect. This makes it look like you’re getting a discount, when actually the lower ‘discount’ price is a more accurate reflection of the value of the product because it’s been available for longer.
  • Referring to a higher ‘was’ price that was used for fewer than 28 days in a row (on a non-food item). This also makes it look like you’re getting a discount, except the higher price was only available for a short period and so again isn’t the best reflection of the value of the product. 
  • Not referring to the price immediately before the offer started as the ‘was’ price, but referring to an older, higher ‘was’ price instead. This exaggerates how much of a discount you’re getting, so the saving the offer gives you isn’t as much as it appears to be.

We've included some of the instances where these rules appeared to have been broken in the gallery above, as well as examples we found of misleading multibuys. This is where the price of a product available on a multibuy offer is bumped up so it looks as if it saves you money, but compared with the usual price, it actually works out the same, or in some cases costs you more.

Help us end misleading pricing

We’ve been highlighting dodgy supermarket special offers for years. Shops have failed to solve these pricing problems themselves, so we’ve launched a campaign to stop shops using misleading pricing tactics.

On 21 April, Which? used one of the most powerful legal tools in its armoury to put in a super-complaint about supermarket pricing practices to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the regulator responsible for enforcing consumer protection legislation. It has 90 days to respond – we’ll report back on progress.

Help us put pressure on the CMA to act by adding your voice to our campaign to end misleading pricing.

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