Shoppers are being routinely ripped off by Britain’s biggest supermarkets after research found that one in ten products in ‘multibuy’ money-off deals have their prices raised before they go on promotion, meaning shoppers are not making the savings they think.
An investigation by Which? looked at 300,000 online prices over the course of a year at Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Ocado.
It found that around 10 per cent of products being sold as multibuy deals such as ‘£10 for two’ had their prices increased when they became part of the deal. The “misleading” tactics by retailers mean that many products are actually more expensive when they are on "discount" than when they are on general sale, Which? said.
The group called for supermarkets to “sort out” their pricing so that shoppers can easily spot the good deals from the bad ones.
For example, Which? found that Asda was selling a Goodfella’s Deep Pan Baked Pepperoni Pizza at a “normal” price of £1. However once the pizza went on sale as part of a multibuy deal, the price of a single pizza was increased to £2.50.
The multibuy deal then offered customers two pizzas for £4.50, meaning that even shoppers who took advantage of the “offer” were paying over double the price of a pre-multibuy pizza.
Supermarkets were also found to be selling four-packs of Heinz soup for £2.99, while next to them offering four individual soups on a multibuy deal for £3.
Asda was also found to have increased the price of Garnier Ambre Solaire protection milk as it went onto multibuy. Which? said that the "normal" price of a 200ml bottle was £5 but this was raised to £7 when the product was put on a "£10 for two" multibuy.
Which?’s investigation found that some chains were not changing the “normal”
price of a good when it went onto a multibuy deal, meaning that shoppers
were not saving any money.
[Related link: POLL: Do you pay more thanks to supermarket multibuy deals?]
For instance over the 365 days of Which?’s investigation, Tesco and Sainsbury’s were "generally" selling a four-pack of Nestle yoghurt either for £1 or for a discounted “two for £2” multibuy. This meant that whether shoppers bought the product on offer or not, they were still paying £1 for the yoghurt.
The consumer group said that supermarkets need to show clear and consistent unit pricing on all products, including those on promotion.
A survey by Which? found that three-quarters of shoppers prefer straight discounts to complicated multibuy deals. But despite a public backlash against confusing multibuys, Which? found that 115 key products have spent longer on promotion this year than they did last year.
A Which? spokesman said: “We don’t think you should have to carry a set of scales and a calculator to figure out whether a 99p bunch of bananas is better value than loose bananas at 68p per kg.”
The spokesman added: “With household budgets squeezed and rising food costs among the top worries for consumers, it’s all the more important that stores make it as easy as possible for people to spot the best value products.”
Which? said it found some examples of multibuys that were plain “daft”.
It found packets of sweets in some shops that were 34 pence each or four for £3, meaning that the “offer” actually cost shoppers £1.64.
Supermarkets said that they never try to mislead their customers.
An Asda spokesman said: “Customers tell us they want low prices, not a strategy that gives with one hand and takes with the other. We’re making sure the cost of weekly shop is consistently low, with no surprises.”
Sainsbury’s said that it uses clear displays in its promotions to prevent confusion and that it “never seeks to mislead customers”.
A Tesco spokesman said that some shoppers like multibuy deals.
“We work hard to offer our customers value for money, through low prices and price promotions including multibuy offers, which our customers tell us we like.”
Meanwhile a Waitrose spokesman said all of its promotions offer “genuine savings”.