Is sun lotion 'deal' a bargain?

Investigation finds retailers put prices up before running a special offer

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Uncovered... great sun cream swindle

Researchers from Mysupermarket.co.uk are warning holidaymakers not to get burned by suncream 'deals'. They say a number of retailers appear to have been inflating price of suncream for a short time before launching half price deals - in order to make the special offers look more attractive. They claim to have found this going on in a number of supermarkets and chemists.

This is particularly alarming given that these practices were meant to have been stamped out by the authorities.

Mysupermarket.co.uk compares prices across various retailers, and runs a tracking service, which enables you to look at historic prices for any particular product. In a new Guardian report it analysed those tracked prices for sun creams from a number of retailers over the past year.

It found a 'zig zag' of prices which meant they were raised for a period before being slashed to 'half price'. It used the example of the Boots own-brand Soltan kids STF 50+ spray, which is currently half price at £5.25. However, the spray was only £10.50 between January and March this year (at which time it was buy-one-get-one-free). Since then it has been priced at £5.25.

The Daily Mail reported that it found similar zig-zags on some brands at Tesco, Sainsbury's and Morrisons. The stores all responded that they were committed to good value and competitive prices, but did not dispute the figures.

Zig-zags

This isn't the first time this sort of pattern has been highlighted. Before the end of 2012 it was even more prevalent. A study by Which? in May of that year looked at 700,000 prices and cited a number of cases where the deal didn't seem entirely straightforward.

In one instance Asda had been selling single yoghurts for 30p, but when it launched a 10-for-£4 deal it doubled the price of a single pot. After the deal was over it reduced the cost of a pot to 30p again. In another case, Tesco was selling Beck's beer for 190 days on discount and 70 days at the higher price.

In November 2012 the Office of Fair Trading was supposed to have solved the problem. At that point eight supermarkets agreed to sign up to a new code, which included things like not running a half price deal for longer than it had been at full price. At the time it said "Shoppers should be able to trust that special offers and promotions really are bargains. Prices and promotions need to be fair and meaningful so shoppers can make the right decisions. Nowhere is this more important than during regular shopping for groceries." It added that the new code: "provides supermarkets with a clear benchmark for how they should be operating so that their food and drink promotions reflect the spirit as well as the letter of the law."

So it's doubly irritating that this code hasn't stamped out zig-zag pricing. In November last year, the Guardian found a similar pattern with wines, which saw their prices inflated before being sold as half price.

Interestingly these promotions don't break these rule, they just ensure they zig-zag within the confines of the code. In the case of the sun cream, they choose to charge the higher prices during the colder months of the year, and the 'half price' deals when the cream would be in higher demand.

It's hard to argue that retailers are following the spirit of this code. But what do you think?

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