In response to a Which? super-complaint, the CMA has today announced a series of measures to crack down on confusing supermarket pricing practices.
Dodgy multi-buys, shrinking products, exaggerated discounts - we’ve identified examples of each of these misleading supermarket promotions over the past seven years. With very little improvement made by the supermarkets, we used our special legal powers to lodge a super-complaint with the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA).
Today the CMA responded to our super-complaint and its 130,000 supporters.
The CMA responds
In its investigation the CMA found examples of promotional practices that have the potential to mislead consumers. These include supermarkets running "was/now" promotions where the discounted price is advertised longer than the higher price. The CMA also uncovered what could be hundreds of promotions a day on the supermarket shelves in breach of consumer law. Now they need to take enforcement action and put a stop to these practices.
Our executive director Richard Lloyd said:
'The CMA’s report confirms what our research over many years has repeatedly highlighted: there are hundreds of misleading offers on the shelves every day that do not comply with the rules. This puts supermarkets on notice to clean up their pricing practices or face legal action.'
Where there is evidence of breaches of consumer law the CMA could take enforcement action against supermarkets. In addition, the CMA also recommends changes to legislation in order to cut out promotional practices that could mislead consumers.
Richard Lloyd added:
'Given the findings, we now expect to see urgent enforcement action from the CMA. The Government must also quickly strengthen the rules so that retailers have no more excuses.'
An end to misleading pricing
If all the changes from the recommended as a result of the super-complaint are implemented widely, this will be good news for consumers, competition and ultimately the economy.
We now need your help to maintain the pressure on the CMA so they take action and the Government strengthens the rules.
We've found more evidence of dodgy special offers, including some that appear to be breaking government guidelines.
Following our super-complaint to the regulator on misleading pricing, our research reveals more examples of the pricing tactics retailers use to create the illusion of savings that don't exist. Special offers are big business: two-thirds of shoppers say they’d bought grocery items on a discount offer in the past month, while six in 10 had bought items on multibuy.
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.'
We found examples 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 believe tactics like these are potentially breaking government guidelines on special offers.
For example, in Morrisons, a 2 litre bottle of Pepsi Max was on a '£1, was £1.98' special offer for 63 days, after being on sale at the higher price for only 28 days.
We also found 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.
We saw more evidence of shrinking products, another 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 to £4.49. In Sainsbury’s the price of the tea bags remained the same (£4.50) despite the loss of 20 tea bags.
Retailers are confusing consumers with tactics that exaggerate discounts and manipulate shoppers, so we're using our legal powers to take the issue to the regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said:
'Despite Which? repeatedly exposing misleading and confusing pricing tactics, and calling for voluntary change by the retailers, these dodgy offers remain on numerous supermarket shelves. 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.
'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. We want an end to misleading pricing tactics and for all retailers to use fair pricing that people can trust.'
From dodgy multi-buys to baffling sales offers, many retailers are creating the illusion of savings that don’t exist. These tactics manipulate consumer spending by misleading people into choosing products they may not have picked if they knew the full facts.
Which? has repeatedly raised the issue of unfair and misleading pricing tactics in the grocery sector but little has changed. So we're using our legal powers to act on your behalf, submitting a 'super-complaint' to the CMA.
A new Which? investigation reveals some of the pricing tactics used by supermarkets and big brands to get shoppers to part with their cash.
Since we launched our campaign in November we’ve found even more examples of confusing multibuys and pricing oddities in stores. Our latest investigation reveals 10 pricing tactics found in supermarkets. These include shrinking products, swapping offers on similar items and confusing multibuys.
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said:
'We’ve uncovered pricing tactics that make shopping for your weekly groceries look like tackling an obstacle course. With consumers struggling to cope with rising food prices, supermarkets and manufacturers need to make it easier for people to spot the best deal.'
Spotting the best supermarket deals
We analysed data from the independent shopping website MySupermarket.co.uk and found supermarkets selling seasonal products at a higher price weeks before most of us need them.
For example, Cadbury's Giant Creme Egg was £10 in Tesco and Sainsbury's in February last year. It was then on offer at Tesco for £8 and at Sainsbury's for £6.66 from March onwards in the lead up to Easter.
More than two in five shoppers (44%) say they've bought something they thought was on offer but turned out not to be. You can turn this annoyance into action by signing our campaign to Make Special Offers Special.
Our research has revealed that supermarket multibuy deals aren't always as good as you might be led to believe.
We analysed the price of 115 products over a year and found some multibuys didn't save you any money at all. Around 10% of products increased in price (from a discount or standard price) when they went onto multibuy and decreased afterwards, at one point during the year.
Daft multibuy offers
Multibuys appear to be on the increase, that's despite the fact they're not very popular - 73% of you told us that you prefer discounts to multibuys.
The 115 products we looked at were on multibuy for 46% of the time in the first half of 2012, compared with 37% of the time in the first half of 2011.
Our research shows that 74% of people think supermarkets try to mislead them with confusing prices. Many supermarkets provide unit prices (the price per kilo or per litre) that are difficult to spot or, in some cases, impossible to compare between brands.
Our research has revealed a whole range of supermarket tactics designed to make bargains look unmissable when, in fact, we don’t think they were really bargains at all.
These tactics include products sold with more expensive 'was' prices that hadn't applied during our tracking and others that increased in price for a few days before being sold on offer for months. When we looked at multibuys, we found products that were actually more expensive per item when they were on offer.
We also discovered products that were on offer for longer than they were at the higher price. Which leads us to ask - which price is the real one?