Calls for an inquiry over supermarket ‘offers’
SUPERMARKET bosses are facing calls for an inquiry after a consumer watchdog accused firms of ripping off shoppers with misleading offers and confusing prices.
In a so-called ‘supercomplaint’ to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), Which? said retailers were creating the illusion of savings through the use of baffling multibuys, shrinking products and dodgy sales offers.
Bosses say shoppers could be losing out to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds.
An example of a misleading multi-buy offer came when Asda increased the price of a Chicago Town Four Cheese Pizza Two-Pack from £1.50 to £2 last year as it went on to multi-buy at two for £3. It went back to £1.50 after the offer ended.
One instance of seasonal pricing was tackled in 2013 when Tesco was fined £300,000 over a strawberry promotion – that was said to have netted the chain £2.3m in profits – following a complaint from a customer.
Promotions have become more widely used in the industry as major supermarkets cut prices to fight losses in market share to discounters such as Aldi and Lidl.
Which? has catalogued a range of misleading pricing practices over the last seven years and passed a report of its findings to the CMA.
Executive director Richard Lloyd said: “Despite Which? repeatedly exposing misleading and confusing pricing tactics, and calling for voluntary change by the retail- ers, these dodgy offers remain on numerous supermarket shelves.
“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.
“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.
“We want an end to misleading pricing tactics and for all retailers to use fair pricing that people can trust.”
The M.E.N. revealed the hidden world of ‘shrinkflation’ – the dark art of making products smaller while keeping them at the same price – in January.
The Office for National Statistics confirmed confectionery products were reducing in size, meaning consumers get less for their money.
Manchester retail expert John Pal says most things in our weekly shopping basket are getting smaller, despite prices remaining the same.
And while there are a raft of reasons behind the changes, the bottom line is boosting profits, said John, a senior lecturer at Manchester Business School.
He said: “It’s quite an unusual move from Which?
“The penalties can be quite Draconian, so I’m surprised supermarkets have let themselves fall into this trap in what looks like the misleading of customers.
“The supermarkets entered into a voluntary code of conduct in 2012, but it seems as though Which? has got evidence that flies in the face of that.”
The British Retail Consortium, which represents many chains, rejected the super-complaint.
Tom Ironside, director of business and regulation, said: “We do not accept the core implications set out in this supercomplaint.
“The examples set out are very specific in nature and are not in any way indicative of broader systemic problems across the retail industry.
“With thousands of products in store every day, errors may from timeto-time occur, however these are rare in nature and are resolved quickly.”
Supermarkets face questions over ‘ripping off’ customers