Tesco supermarket aisle wine clubcard offer

Source: The Grocer / Charles Wright

Which? claims the latest use of personalised deals could lead to an epidemic of overbuying

It’s good to see respected “consumer champion” Which? with its finger on the pulse once again.

As the UK’s inflation levels returned to something resembling normal, its latest piece of Whichcraft hit out at the new wave of ultra personalised supermarket loyalty incentives, including Tesco’s Clubcard Challenge and similar moves by Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons.

Which?, a full subscription to which will set you back almost £100 a year, has had the knives out for loyalty cards for some time of course.

Last September it claimed “dodgy” loyalty deals were misleading customers, and the force of uncritical media coverage surrounding its supposed findings prompted yet another Competition & Markets Authority investigation. Yet our own consumer research, published just last week, shows shoppers think they provide great value and have helped them navigate the worst cost of living crisis in 50 years.

Now Which? claims this latest use of personalised deals, powered by AI-driven insight into consumer spending data, could lead to an epidemic of overbuying as hapless hard-up Brits go on spending splurges in search of Clubcard rewards like drugs or gambling addicts.

Which treats ultra-canny British shoppers as if they are idiots. At the same time it ignores all the compelling evidence showing that in the UK’s ruthlessly competitive grocery market, UK shoppers have very little loyalty when it comes to where they spend their hard-earned money unless a) it offers value b) they can afford it.

If it was really worried about shoppers, instead of treating them like crack-cocaine junkies or strung-out gamblers draped over a one arm bandit in the local bookies, Which? would be better served looking out for real consumer injustices. There are no shortage of targets. Yet as Clive Black, the respected Shore Capital analyst points out, Which? somehow manages to be ”self-perpetuating , arrogant and pointless in obsessing over supermarkets in general and loyalty cards most recently. 

And he gave short shrift to the latest report from Which?, which “redefined bullshit”, he said. 

”What sort of planet and in which sort of economy do Which? think this would be an appropriate one? The assumptions are insulting people’s intelligence. Nobody is forced to use these loyalty cards. They are all free, there’s lots of them to choose from. And it’s wrong to describe British shoppers as canny. They are far sharper than that. Long ago they sussed that they could get a better deal by jumping ship to Aldi and Lidl and through the pandemic and the cost of living crisis they have become better than the average retailer at being able to spot a good value deal.” 

Of course, there’s a strong possibility that the CMA’s latest investigation, which was again inspired by Which? to look into loyalty prices and whether they are “misleading” shoppers, will be delayed due to the ‘purdah’ resulting from the General Election. Already the EFRA Select Committee’s year-long enquiry has been dissolved. But if it does go ahead, it promises to be another expensive time-wasting exercise, says Black, backing up what previous CMA inquiries have found: namely that, the UK shopper has one of the most competitive food retail markets in the world.

Black is not alone in being mystified by the Which? witchhunt. Retail Mind founder Ged Futter asked: “When will Which? understand that customers have a choice of where they shop? It’s insane to suggest these loyalty deals will cause them to spend more than they want.

“Customers look at price per gram, they’ve been doing it for decades and with the cost of living crisis they are even better at it.”

“I cannot understand why Which? is so opposed to loyalty cards. I had a look to see what you had to do to get a Tesco Clubcard. You need to be over 18 and be a UK citizen. That’s it. 

“It suggests to me that Which? Is the antithesis of the shoppers’ champion.”