Which? lodges ‘super-complaint’ over misleading pricing in UK supermarkets

Watchdog claims consumers could be collectively losing out to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds



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21 April 2015

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Watchdog Which? magazine has lodged a ‘super-complaint’ with the UK regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), claiming that grocery retailers repeatedly use misleading pricing tactics.

The legal power to make a super-complaint to an industry regulator is held only by a small number of consumer bodies such as Which? and Energywatch. Following Which? submitting its dossier to the CMA, the regulator will have 90 days to respond.

In a press statement, Which? claimed many retailers are creating the illusion of savings that don’t exist. Tactics “from dodgy multi-buys to baffling sales offers” are “misleading people into choosing products they may not have picked if they knew the full facts,” the organisation claimed.

About 40% of groceries (by revenue) in Great Britain are currently sold on promotion. With £115 billion spent on groceries and toiletries in 2013 according to Kantar Worldpanel statistics, Which? claims consumers could be collectively losing out to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds.

Some of the specific issues Which? has raised with the CMA include:

Multi-buys –  prices increasing when going on multi-buy so that the saving is less than claimed, non-existent or products are more expensive when they are included in the multi-buy. For example, Asda increased the price of a Chicago Town Four Cheese Pizza Two-Pack from £1.50 to £2 as it went onto multi-buy at two for £3. It went back to £1.50 as the ‘offer’ ended (2014).

Larger pack, better value – where the individual item price of the bigger pack is actually more expensive. For example, Tesco sold four cans of Green Giant Original Sweetcorn for £2 (was £2.44), but six cans were proportionately more expensive, at £3.56. That’s despite the fact the larger pack said ‘special value’ (2014).

Seasonal offers – where the higher price only applied out of season. Which? found a Nestle Kit Kat Chunky Collection Giant Egg was advertised at £7.49 for just 10 days in January at Ocado, but then sold on offer at £5 for 51 days (2015).

The watchdog says it “has repeatedly raised the issue of unfair and misleading pricing tactics in the grocery sector but little has changed”; and that this prompted its decision to lodge a ‘super-complaint’.

However the British Retail Consortium has rejected the complaint. Tom Ironside, its director of business and regulation, said: “We do not accept the core implications set out in this super-complaint. The examples set out are very specific in nature and are not in any way indicative of broader systemic problems across the retail industry.”



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