Tesco in probe over 'cut-price' drink offer

MP accuses supermarket of using bargain offers on alcohol as bait to lure shoppers

Britain's biggest supermarket, Tesco, is facing two official investigations over claims that it deliberately advertised cut-price alcohol as "bait" to lure bargain-hunters.

Trading standards officers have launched an investigation into whether Tesco broke new laws by running special offers while failing to ensure it had enough stock to meet demand.

In a separate move, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is looking into whether Tesco broke advertising rules in the way that it promoted the offers and refused to remove banners at front of stores despite not having the stock to sell.

The investigations are the latest moves as retailers come under increasing scrutiny for the way that they bend guidelines designed to ensure that the public are not misled by bogus sales and money-off deals. The consumer group Which? recently completed a three-month investigation during which it found several examples of misleading deals from retailers. Among several misleading cases, Which? found:

*Waitrose blueberries were on "half-price" for six weeks after two weeks at the "higher price". Goods should be sold at the higher price for at least 28 days, government guidelines say;

*Marks & Spencer had "half-price" cherries at £2.49 when the higher price was only 50p more;

*Sainsbury's sold Jacob's Creek chardonnay for £4.79 for months after offering its higher price of £6.79 for just two weeks.

Under the Unfair Consumer Practice Directive, which came into force in May last year, retailers are forbidden from advertising goods for which they can expect they have insufficient stock – a practice known as "bait advertising".

The allegations against Tesco were made by Rosie Cooper, a Labour MP, who contacted trading standards and the ASA after visiting a branch of the store in Liverpool. She said she tried to buy a one-litre bottle of Baileys which had been advertised for sale at £8. But the West Lancashire MP found the offer was "out of stock". She then tried a further two stores which were also out of stock. She said: "When I contacted Tesco's head office their customer services department told me 'all stores should get some stock, but not a lot, granted'." She did not say that she was an MP.

"So I told them I was contacting trading standards and they still said they would not act which I find absolutely amazing." Ms Cooper, who said other shoppers had made complaints about the non-availability of special offers in Tesco, said Tesco had refused to remove the misleading advertising from the front of its stores.

"On a personal level, it doesn't matter but on a national level I think Tesco is getting too big for its boots. If they have been using bait advertising and think they can get away with it then somebody should stop it."

Tesco denied that it had deliberately understocked the offer in question. "The response from our customer service centre to Ms Cooper was wrong," a spokesman said.

"There was plenty of stock ordered to ensure enough of these products for all customers across the country and we apologise that she was not given an adequate explanation.

"As you would expect in the run-up to Christmas, these promotions were extremely popular with customers. Additional supplies were ordered in as quickly as possible." Tesco said it was addressing another complaint from the MP – namely, that Jacob's Creek wine was on offer advertised for £3 but was being sold for £6.

Liverpool Trading Standards Office confirmed it was looking into a complaint and said that any company found to be in breach of regulations on bait advertising "could face a substantial fine or be at risk of prosecution".

An ASA spokeswoman said: "We do get these kind of complaints on a very small but regular basis. People feel very put out if they have gone to a store for a particular offer and it has not been available."

The ASA investigated and rejected two complaints against Tesco last year for allegedly running promotions which were not fully supported.

Jeff Bray, who is a lecturer in retail consumer behaviour at Bournemouth University, said retailers sometimes understocked special offers, especially for "big ticket" items at electrical and furnishings stores, in order to create a buzz and ensure customers flock through the doors. Supermarkets would find that such tactics rarely worked, however, because the items would rarely offer enough money off and could irritate customers.

He added: "There are a number of questionable ethics in some of the offers retailers are exposing us to. The first and obvious one is that there are quite loose laws on money-off deals and some retailers are exploiting those rules by putting up the price of goods for a limited time before making a discount.

"There are other slightly less obvious tricks like putting coloured bands on a product saying 10 per cent off where the band is much bigger than the extra amount in the pack meaning that, cognitively, the consumer is being misled."

He added: "The law is very loosely regulated in this country compared to others and retailers as are looking to exploit every opportunity."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower