Supermarkets warned over misleading price tactics

The Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) has warned that supermarket pricing could “confuse or mislead” shoppers and has told the industry that it needs to make the cost of food clearer and more transparent for consumers.

The competition watchdog found evidence of potentially confusing and misleading pricing. Picture: PA

An investigation carried out by the CMA found examples of pricing and promotional practices that it said have the potential to confuse or mislead consumers and which could be in breach of consumer law. The guidelines are in response to a super-complaint put forward by consumer watchdog Which? three months ago.

The probe also found that more could be done to reduce the complexity in unit pricing to make it a more useful comparison tool for consumers.

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Which? welcomed the report and called for retailers to take urgent action.

Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, which has been investigating the problem for seven years, said: “The CMA’s report confirms what our research over many years has repeatedly highlighted: there are hundreds of misleading offers on the shelves every day that do not comply with the rules. This puts supermarkets on notice to clean up their pricing practices or face legal action.

“Given the findings, we now expect to see urgent enforcement action from the CMA. The government must also quickly strengthen the rules so that retailers have no more excuses.”

He added: “As a result of our super-complaint, if all the changes are implemented widely, this will be good for consumers, competition and, ultimately, the economy.”

Which? has highlighted examples of pricing problems such as a two for £2.50 offer on a bottle of Robinsons Orange Fruit Squash, which saw the price for one increased from £1 to as much as £1.59 while on offer, creating the illusion of a saving but actually costing shoppers 50p more.

The CMA 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.

Nisha Arora, CMA senior director for consumer issues, said: ”We welcomed the super-complaint, which presented us with information that demanded closer inspection. We have gathered and examined a great deal of further evidence over the past three months and are now announcing what further action we are taking and recommending others to take.”

However, she said that the problems are not occurring in large numbers across the whole sector and that generally retailers are taking compliance seriously. The CMA had 90 days to respond to the Which? super-complaint, which was submitted in April.

Tom Ironside, the British Retail Consortium’s director of business and regulation, said: “Within the Which? super-complaint there have only been a relatively small number of confusing, or erroneous, prices identified.”