Supermarkets slammed for multi-buy rip-offs

Which? have shone their investigative spotlight on supermarket 'special offers', which according to the consumer champion, aren't very special after all.

Which? examined 700,000 products during a period of 12 months and has castigated multi-buy 'offers' from the likes of Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Ocado. Let's look at some of Which's allegations in detail.

Rubbish offers?

First, says Which?, supermarket multi-buy 'offers' are often priced at a more expensive ticket price than the original price per item. "For example, Asda doubled the price of a single Müller yoghurt from 30p to 61p as they went onto multibuy at 10 for £4. The price went back to 30p when the offer ended. This meant the yoghurt cost more per item when you bought 10 under the offer than when you bought one before or after it."

Then there's prices being increased immediately before going on 'offer' making the discount appear better. "For example," says Which?, "Ocado strawberries increased in price from £3.89 to £4.38 for 13 days. They were then sold as 'was £4.38 now £2.19/£2.29/£2.25' for 112 days, though there were nine days within this period when they were sold at £4.38."

Not such a great deal

"We saw items that yo-yoed between discount and multibuy," adds Which? "For instance one product was sold as 'was £3.46 now £3' – except that it was on multibuy at 2 for £6 for the majority of time it was at the higher price of £3.46. So provided you bought two, it was £3 all along."

Which? now wants government guidelines on pricing to be tightened up. "While the existing rules are supposed to make sure that supermarket special offers don't mislead shoppers, we feel they leave too many loopholes. For example, the rules state that the 'was' price should be the most recent price a product was sold at for 28 consecutive days, and a product shouldn't ordinarily be on offer for longer than it was at the higher price."

However supermarkets can simply get around these rules says Which, by explaining the offer on a sign stating the date(s) something [product] was at a higher price. "The rules also include the coverall get-out clause by stating that what is 'reasonable' depends on the individual circumstances."

Right of reply

Tesco responded to the Which? allegations. "At Tesco, we are committed to helping our customers keep the cost of their shopping down, including through price promotions. We change millions of price labels in store and online each week and we do sometimes make mistakes, for which we apologise."

Morrisons responded too: "On chilled lines such as fruit juice or yoghurt, some shoppers will buy several packs for their families whereas others only need one. We use different promotional mechanics – multi-buys and discounted single unit price - to ensure all our customers can enjoy lower prices at different times. The multi-buy price is always cheaper per unit than the standard price."

So, there you have it. The bottom line has to be to treat supermarket special 'offers' with some scepticism until the Government is prepared to act. Have you been duped, do you think, by so-called 'special offers'? Let us know.

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