Supermarkets are not ripping off customers by charging higher prices online, according to a new survey by The Grocer. But price discrepancies do arise as a result of seasonality, substitutions and the end of promotions.
Food retailers including Sainsbury and Tesco are under scrutiny by the Office of Fair Trading over the price of products offered through their online operations.
However, The Grocer 33 online quarterly barometer shows there was little difference in the average prices across a list of 33 goods purchased in-store between November 6 and December 18 and those same goods bought online.
In our Christmas shop, Asda delivered 31 of the 33 items ordered at a cost of £36.89. Had it been in stock on the two remaining items the cost would have been £40.39, 8p cheaper than the last in-store shop on December 18 and just 64p more expensive than the average for the same list in-store in the seven weeks across November and December. Asda also substituted higher value products for two out-of-stock items but charged our shopper the lower price of the goods ordered. Tesco, on the other hand, charged the greater amount when it substituted Del Monte fruit cocktail for the own label ordered and a 6-pack of orange juice for the 4-pack requested. Its online order came in at £42.06 compared to an average of £40.72 in-store, but this was accounted for by the higher-priced substitutions and the variety of apples chosen by our shopper.
Sainsbury’s online basket cost £43.60 compared to an average in-store across the seven weeks of £42.70. The main difference was in the cost per kilo of new potatoes at the time of ordering.
Head of Sainsbury’s Online Toby Anderson stressed there was no difference in the prices charged on its web site. “Our online customers pay exactly the same as customers in our stores,” he said.
The Grocer 33 online list was ordered on December 1 for delivery on December 18. The gap between time ordered and delivery date explains why our Tesco shopper ended up paying more for apples than she expected at time of ordering as a price promotion had expired.
An OFT spokeswoman said it was examining supermarkets’ pricing online and had held confidential discussions with a number of companies.
It is believed to be looking into issues including the charging more for online products than in-store, charging higher prices than advertised on site, charging for a premium product and supplying a regular item, and using web sites to shift food close to sell-by dates.
Siân Harrington