Britain’s supermarkets are facing calls for a competition inquiry after Which? today accused firms of ripping off shoppers with misleading and confusing prices.
In its super-complaint to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the consumer group said retailers were creating the illusion of savings through the use of multi-buys, shrinking products and baffling sales offers.
Which? said 40 per cent of groceries are sold on promotion so consumers could be collectively losing out to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds if only a small proportion of offers are misleading.
It added that it was virtually impossible for people to know if they are getting a fair deal, particularly when prices vary frequently or when consumers are in a rush and may be buying numerous items of relatively low value.
The group is one of a handful of bodies with the power to make a super-complaint on behalf of consumers about poorly functioning markets to the CMA, which must now respond within 90 days.
Promotions have become more widely used in the industry over the last 12 months as major supermarkets have cut prices to fight losses in market share to discounters such as Aldi and Lidl.
The consumer body said that over the last seven years it has catalogued a range of misleading pricing practices.
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “Despite Which? repeatedly exposing misleading and confusing pricing tactics, and calling for voluntary change by the retailers, these dodgy offers remain on numerous supermarket shelves.”
Which? said 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 onto multi-buy at two for £3. It went back to £1.50 after the offer ended.
The consumer body also criticised an example of “was/now” pricing earlier this year when Heston from Waitrose Acacia Honey & Ginger Hot Cross Buns were advertised at £1.50 for just 12 days before going on offer at “£1.12 was £1.50” for 26 days.