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

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

Asda

Aquafresh Milk Teeth Toothpaste 0-3 Years (50ml)

Was: £1.74

Offer price: £1/£1.16/£1.17

Days on offer: 35

Highest price during Which?'s tracking was £1.18

Asda

Pedigree Chunks in Gravy Selection (12x400g)

Was: £7.21

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

Morrisons

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.

Tesco

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.

Sainsbury's

Asparagus (250g)

Was: £3

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.

Asda

Philadelphia Original (300g)

Was: £2.37

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.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

    £23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Report Writer

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Technical Report Writer is re...

    MBDA UK Ltd: Indirect Procurement Category Manager

    Competitive salary & benefits!: MBDA UK Ltd: MBDA UK LTD Indirect Procurement...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

    £16500 - £16640 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing Finance compa...

    Day In a Page

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore