click a Logo below to discover how we help our clients

Food Shoppers ‘tricked’ out of £1bn by supermarkets

Families could benefit from cheaper weekly food bills as Britain’s biggest ­supermarkets are today referred to the competition watchdog.

The grocery giants have been creating the illusion of savings that don’t exist through “dodgy multi-buys, shrinking products and baffling sales offers”, according to Which?, the consumer group. A range of “misleading and confusing pricing tactics” were costing shoppers up to £1 billion a year, it added.

In a so-called “super-complaint” to the Competition and Markets Authority, Which? claimed that shoppers were being tricked by offers that made it “virtually impossible for people to know if they are getting a fair deal”.

British shoppers spend about £115 billion a year on groceries and toiletries, 14?per cent of household expenditure. About 40 per cent of those sales are on promotions and Which? estimates that even if only a small proportion of these offers are misleading, the average household could be losing more than £40 a year.

The dubious pricing practices identified in the super-complaint include:

• Confusing and misleading special offers.
• A lack of easily comparable prices due to the way unit pricing is done.
• Shrinking pack sizes without any corresponding cut in the price.
• Misleading use of price matching with rival supermarkets.
• The use of a higher price for only a short period before the product goes on promotion for much longer — so-called high/low pricing.

According to the consumer group, there is a “prolific and systemic problem with pricing”.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said that these “dodgy offers” remained available on supermarket shelves despite repeated warnings from the organisation.
“We’re saying enough is enough and using one of the most powerful legal weapons in our armoury to act on behalf of consumers by launching a super-complaint to the regulator,” he said.

Nick Bubb, a retail analyst, said: “To be fair, the industry has been trying to cut back the promo frenzy, but high/low pricing and quantitative vouchering are still rife. It’s easy to mock the ‘middle-class’ view of Which? but they do have a point. Whether the CMA does anything about it is another matter.”

The British Retail Consortium, which looks after the interests of the big retailers, insisted they were “committed to treating their customers fairly and to avoid misleading them in any way” and said it did not accept “the core implications” of the super-complaint.

Tom Ironside, the BRC’s director of business and regulation, said: “With thousands of products and special offers in store every day, errors may from time to time occur. However, these are rare in nature and are resolved quickly by the retailer concerned.”
He argued that “millions of shoppers across the country enjoy the benefits of price promotions and special offers”, citing research showing that, with the exception of fruit and vegetables, food prices in UK supermarkets are on ­average 7 per cent lower than in the ­eurozone.
Mr Ironside added: “We will examine closely the content of this super­complaint. With a consultation expected soon on a revised pricing practices guide, it would seem sensible to consider the issues raised in the super­complaint as part of that process.”

Source: - 21 April 2015