Which? has accused supermarkets of ignoring an OFT set of principles on special offers and promotions by continuing to bombard consumers with “dodgy discounts” and “misleading multibuys”.
A year after eight supermarkets agreed to ensure promotional claims should be based on “fair and meaningful” discounts, the consumer group said it had uncovered a raft of deals that pull the wool over customers’ eyes.
Among those cited was a Sainsbury’s special offer for Carex Aloe Vera and Eucalyptus Moisturising Antibacterial Handwash (250ml) at a higher price of £1.80 for seven days, and then on offer at 90p for 84 days.
Which? said Ocado sold a 12 pack of Beck’s Bier tagged as “was £12.19 now £9” for almost a month but had only sold it at the higher price of £12.19 for three days, 18 days before the offer started.
It also found “misleading” multibuys in Asda that it said did not save customers any money and, in some cases, ended up costing more.
The supermarket increased the regular price of Muller Light Greek Style yoghurt (4 x 120g) from £1.50 to £2.18 as it went on a “2 for £4” offer. It also increased the regular price of Uncle Ben’s Express Basmati rice (250g) from £1 to £1.58 as it went on a “2 for £3” offer and then returned the rice to £1 when the offer ended.
“We’ve found dodgy discounts across the aisles, and with rising food prices hitting shoppers’ budgets hard we think supermarkets are not playing fair,” said Which? executive director Richard Lloyd. “The stores have had long enough to sort their act out, so we’re saying enough is enough.”
However, the British Retail Consortium said it was inevitable there would be some “errors” across the “tens of thousands of promotions” in supermarkets.
“Retailers are committed to giving customers a good deal and in a very competitive market they work hard to offer the keenest promotions and the best value,” said a BRC spokesman. “In fact, 35% of all food was bought on promotion in October, demonstrating how we all benefit from the wide range of offers that are available.”
Last November Aldi, The Co-op, Lidl, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose agreed to adopt the principles into their own policies, following talks with the OFT. The principles clarify the OFT’s view on how promotional claims should be used so that consumers can rely on them being fair and meaningful regarding the value of the product or the existence of a discount.
Challenged to respond to the Which? report, the major retailers denied misleading customers.
Asda said it “would never deliberately mislead customers” but that “sometimes mistakes can happen”. Sainsbury’s apologised for the three deals cited in the Which? report and described them as mistakes. Ocado said it was looking into the “price history” of its products listed in the report.
Tesco said the deals cited by Which? occurred during a “transition period” to the new OFT guidelines.
Morrisons disputed the example given by Which?, saying it believed this promotion complied with the OFT principles.
A separate survey by Which? published today showed rising food prices top consumers’ list of worries, with 40% saying they were likely to cut back spending on food in the next few months.