UK Competition Authority finds supermarket promotions have ‘potential to mislead’

Have hypermarkets had their day? Fionnuala Carolan examines why the 'little and often' consumer trend appears to be winning the retail race

The CMA in the UK is taking action to protect shoppers from misleading offers after a thorough examination of supermarkets’ promotions



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16 July 2015

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Following a ‘super-complaint’ submitted by watchdog Which? in April, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK today announced a series of measures to improve compliance, bring greater clarity to shoppers and simplify the regulations.

The super-complaint by Which? raised concerns about confusing and misleading promotions and a lack of easily comparable prices because of the limitations of unit pricing.

In its investigation the CMA found examples of pricing and promotional practices that have the potential to confuse or mislead consumers and which could be in breach of consumer law. The authority said that where there is evidence of breaches of consumer law this could lead to enforcement action.

However, the CMA has concluded that these problems are not occurring in large numbers across the whole sector and that generally retailers are taking compliance seriously to avoid such problems occurring. The authority also found that more could be done to reduce the complexity in unit pricing to make it a more useful comparison tool for consumers.

The CMA says it will now work with businesses to cut out promotional practices which could mislead consumers. This includes the practice of running ‘was/now’ promotions where the discount price is advertised as a promotion for longer than the higher price applied.

To improve compliance the CMA also recommends that, in its ongoing review of the ‘Pricing Practices Guide’, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute clarifies how the legislation applies to certain promotional practices.

It is also recommending that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) publishes best practice guidelines on the legibility of unit prices, and looks at ways to simplify and clarify legislation, including how the law requires items to be unit-priced when they are on promotion.

The CMA had 90 days to respond to the Which? super-complaint and gathered information from retailers, manufacturers, consumers and advice bodies, and also commissioned third party data and surveys on pricing practices.

The super-complaint’s concerns focused on four key issues – potentially misleading special offers, unit pricing, price-matching schemes and changing pack sizes.



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