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Supermarkets: fleecing shoppers with price deals?

Kit Klarenberg
Written By:
Kit Klarenberg

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has announced it will investigate charges that UK supermarkets have conned consumers to the tune of hundreds of millions through deceptive pricing.

Last month, consumer group Which? lodged a ‘super-complaint’ against the grocery sector  – the first of its kind – having compiled an extensive dossier of misleading pricing practices, which included “dodgy” multi-buy promotions, “shrinking” products and “baffling” offers. Which? stated in the ‘super-complaint’ that the practices amounted to conscious dishonesty, with illusory savings incentivising consumers to buy products they may not have bought otherwise.

The super-complaint groups examples into four separate groups, as follows;

  • Seasonal Offers

Higher prices applied to seasonal goods (such as Christmas puddings and Easter eggs) out of season, when consumers are less likely to buy the items; goods then sold ‘on-season’ at an alleged reduction.

  • Was/Now Pricing

Use of a higher ‘was’ price when the product in question had been available for longer at the ‘now’ price, or had never been sold for the ‘was’ price.

  • Multi-Buys 

Individual product prices increased on alleged multi-buy deals, so that savings are less than claimed, or worse, entirely non-existent.

  • Larger Packs

Increasing the price of individual items artificially, so bigger packs of the same item appear cheaper.

At present, roughly 40 per cent of groceries in Britain are sold on promotion, according to data issued by Kantar Worldpanel. Last year, UK consumers spent around £115bn on groceries; as a result, Which? believes consumers could be being conned out of hundreds of millions.

Which? is one of the few consumer watchdogs granted the power to lodge super-complaints with industry regulators; other bodies afforded the right include the Citizens Advice Bureau and the National Consumer Council. While Which? has previously lodged super-complaints about care homes, credit card interest rates, banking and private dentistry to regulators, this is the first such complaint levelled against the grocery industry.

“Despite Which? repeatedly exposing misleading and confusing pricing tactics, these dodgy offers remain on numerous supermarket shelves,” said Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director. “Shoppers think they’re getting a bargain, but in reality it’s impossible for any consumer to know if they’re genuinely getting a fair deal.”

“Enough is enough – we are 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. We want an end to misleading pricing tactics and for all retailers to use fair pricing that people can trust.”