Supermarkets accused of ripping off shoppers with 'misleading' offers
Which? survey reveals that buying single items can often be cheaper than attractive-looking multipack promotions
Following stints with Reuters and the Press Association, Martin Hickman joined The Independent as a news editor in 2001. He became the Consumer Affairs Correspondent in September 2005 and has run the paper's trenchant campaigns on packaging, bank charges and factory-farmed chicken. He writes on subjects as diverse as food, finance, energy and fashion. With Tom Watson, he is author of a new book on the phone hacking scandal, Dial M for Murdoch - News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain.
Thursday 24 May 2012
Shoppers who think they save money by buying in bulk may actually be paying more, according to an investigation exposing a variety of "misleading" supermarket offers.
Many items in shop multibuy promotions, such as "two packs of Innocent smoothies for £5", were actually cheaper if bought singly, an analysis of thousands of prices by a consumer group found.
In an exhaustive check of supermarket offers, Which? found several deals which looked attractive at first glance actually end up hitting consumers in the pocket.
Examples include raising the price of an item for only a few days shortly before putting it "on sale" for months, and advertising a higher "before" price than the one prior to the discount period beginning, both of which give the impression of greater savings.
The supermarkets said they had made honest mistakes and apologised to customers.
Which? tracked 700,000 prices over a year from 31 January 2011 and 1 February 2012 at the shopping website Mysupermarket.co.uk.
The consumer group did not quantify how many offers it considered to be potentially misleading because there were "so many", but highlighted 24.
Thirteen were at Asda, six at Tesco, two at Sainsbury, two at Morrisons and one at Ocado.
Among them, Tesco raised the price of a pack of blueberries from £1.80 to £3.99 for a fortnight before offering it for 52 days at £1.99 – still 19p more than before it was increased. Asda marked down Aquafresh milk teeth toothpaste to between £1 and £1.17 with a "was" price of £1.74, but Which? could only find it as having been sold previously at £1.17.
Among examples of dubious multibuy offers, Asda doubled the price of a single Müller yogurt from 30p to 61p; the price went back down to 30p when the offer ended.
And Tesco put wine on promotion for up to three months longer than it was sold at the advertised "was" price.
Which? called for a tightening of government guidelines on pricing, saying there were too many loopholes for retailers to exploit. The guidelines state that the "was" price should be the most recent a product was sold at for 28 consecutive days, and that a product should not usually be on offer for longer than it was at the higher price.
Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director, said: "At a time when household budgets are squeezed and food bills are going up, many people are on the look out for a bargain. It's unacceptable that shoppers are confused into thinking they're getting a good deal when that might not be the case. Consumers shouldn't have to worry about whether a special offer is really 'special'."
Most of the supermarkets said the offers highlighted were occasional lapses, though Morrisons disputed Which?'s findings.
Asda said: "We are only human and occasionally we make mistakes. By and large our systems and procedures ensure those instances are kept to an absolute minimum."
Tesco explained that it changed millions of price labels in store and online each week "and we sometimes make mistakes, for which we apologise".
Morrisons said the lower prices on multibuy items quoted by Which? were promotional discounts, emphasising: "The multibuy price is always cheaper per unit than the standard price."
Sainsbury said it had "accidentally" put the wrong "was" price on packs of The Black Farmer sausages but said the other offer highlighted by Which? – selling asparagus at higher price for only a fortnight before discounting it for two months – was within its guidelines.
Ocado regretted its "one isolated" example – a sharp increase in the price of pack of strawberries for 13 days before it went on offer.
Real deals? Offers that may save less than you think
Aquafresh Milk Teeth Toothpaste 0-3 Years (50ml)
Offer price: £1/£1.16/£1.17
Days on offer: 35
Highest price during Which?'s tracking was £1.18
Pedigree Chunks in Gravy Selection (12x400g)
Offer price: £6/£5
Days on offer: 77
Highest price during Which?'s tracking was £6.25
Products that were not sold at the 'was' price immediately before offer
Innocent Pure Fruit Smoothie Mangoes & Passion Fruits (750ml)
Price each before multibuy: £2 promo discount
Price each during multibuy: £2.79
Multibuy offer: two for £5. The multibuy offer makes the product more expensive per carton than it was before the offer.
L'Oréal Elvive Colour Protect UV Filter Conditioner (250ml)
Price each before multibuy: £2
Price each during multibuy: £2.25
Multibuy offer: 3 for 2. It looks like the saving is 75p per bottle, but it is really only 50p per bottle.
Offer price: £1.50
Days on offer: 63
Only spent 14 days at the higher price before the offer was introduced, with a sign explaining the offer.
Philadelphia Original (300g)
Offer prices: £1, £1.77, £1.97, £2.12
Days on offer: 73
The only time the spread was sold at the 'was' price was 42 days earlier, when it went up from £2.12 for 11 days.
- 1 Lucy Hawking: Stephen Hawking's daughter writes impassioned open letter to Katie Hopkins about rights of disabled people
- 2 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 3 Russell Brand backs Ed Miliband: 'You gotta vote Labour'
- 4 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
- 5 Uploading pictures to find out how old you are gives Microsoft the right to post them wherever they want
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
In defence of liberal democracy
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils
iJobs Money & Business
£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...
£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...
£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...
£24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior SEO Executive is requi...
Day In a Page
This detached four-bedroom home in Middleyard is arranged over two floors, with features that include a wood-burning stove and bespoke oak staircase.
In a row of eight detached Georgian residences, this five-bedroom home offers views of The Sound, Mount Edgcumbe and Cornwall from its impressive veranda and full-length balcony.
If you love cooking for friends this two-bedroom flat - complete with views of the iconic Battersea Power Station and an open-plan kitchen/dining area - will go down a treat.
Located above Grasmere village, this five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors and offers countryside views across Grasmere Lake towards Silver Howe.
Surrounded by the Western fells, this five-bedroom Georgian home retains many original features including panel-plastered ceilings, sash windows and fireplaces.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B, subject to change of use permissions.
A former period coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
This four-bedroom home has exposed brick chimneys and a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining - the doors open to the patio and garden.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with grounds that span to approximately 2.5 acres, as well as two large patio areas and a double garage.
This four-bedroom cottage is a Grade II-listed town house, well-located for the thriving market town of Nailsworth.
A four-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a stunning period property in North Yorkshire, with two kitchens and a large south-west facing garden.
This high-spec two-bedroom home is part of a smart collection of new flats at Beaufort Park and has a large decked balcony that's perfect for summer drinks.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Overlooking a golf course, this six-bedroom Edwardian detached home spans four storeys and retains many period features including the original, operational servants' bells...
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
In a Grade II-listed manor just outside of Bath, this three-bedroom home is arranged on two floors with a skylight in a vaulted roof line.
Open the living room's bi-fold wooden doors to reveal a retro-style kitchen, and a conservatory leading to a paved garden at this three-bedroom home.
A Grade II-listed, four-bedroom home, in a charming Somerset village, with a two-storey studio that could be converted into a holiday cottage
A modern four-bedroom Victorian home, within walking distance to the high street
A luxury apartment in the Gothic mansion of Wyfold Court in Kingwood, offers six bedrooms spread over three floors and a turret
This school conversion, near Stockwell Tube, oozes New York loft style. The one-bedroom flat features double height ceilings and exposed brick work
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park