Jayne Dowle: A bit of honesty from stores is top of our shopping lists

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IT is victory, of sorts. The discount website Groupon is yet again under fire for its sales tactics on a cosmetic surgery deal. And an investigation by the BBC’s Panorama programme has accused the Big Four supermarkets, Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, of hoodwinking shoppers with misleading discounts.

The Office of Fair Trading says it wants to examine the findings. But it’s only a year since the OFT itself warned supermarkets to play straight. They obviously didn’t take any notice then, so why should they now?

Ah. Well. It looks like we shoppers might be hitting them where it hurts. The latest figures from retail analyst Kantar Worldpanel suggest that the price war is damaging the dominance of market leader Tesco. Its share of the market has fallen from 30.7 per cent a year ago to 30.5 per cent at the end of November, and growth is faltering. Aggressive price-slashing by its three main rivals has put the retail giant on the back foot.

There is only so much shopping cash to go round – apparently, up to three million of us are thinking of taking out a short-term loan just to cover the cost of living. And when you’ve got all four major supermarkets, plus a load of discount dealers competing for an ever-shrinking consumer spend, it is obvious something has to give.

Now, I’m sure that there are brighter brains than mine beavering away to come up with ideas to regain customer trust and woo us back “in store” as the big four will no doubt be putting it. And I know that times being tight, they won’t have a lot of cash to spend on market research. So I thought that I would help out with a few suggestions to persuade us customers to trust them again. And this applies not just to Tesco, but to all of them.

Market share might be up at Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s, but this happy news only tells half the story. It doesn’t mean that shoppers are overjoyed to be there. Not when it’s a full-time job trying to keep up with who is discounting what and when and when this deal starts and the other one ends.

The first thing is to clarify the advertising. Apologies, on this note, to the beleaguered shop assistant in Morrisons who had the misfortune to be the one to inform me that the “£10 spirits” deal was over for the time being. Sorry. It had been a long day and I had driven there specially. Sorry again.

So, what else to do? Cut out the bogus price-cutting. Don’t tell us that some box of soap powder is cheaper than it was six months ago in your store in Hemel Hempstead. How are we to know that this is true? We haven’t got a time machine, and it’s unlikely that even if we had, we would use it to nip down to Hemel Hempstead. It’s either cheaper right here, right now, or it’s not. Be honest.

Don’t tell us that something is a saving, when on closer inspection, it isn’t. Simple maths. If an item normally costs £1, then “two for £2” is obviously not the deal of the century. But you know as well as we do that when we’re shopping we’re stressed, harassed, possibly sociopathic, and just want to get in and out as quickly as possible. Anything that looks like a bargain, we’ll fall for it. Even it if defies the laws of logic. Have a bit of pity for us in our sorry state, and we will love you for it.

And now, the “bigger is better because it’s cheaper” myth. I know. Buy a massive tub of butter, which will end up congealing in the fridge, because it won’t cost as much as the two smaller ones which keep fresh for longer.

Last weekend, I spent five minutes more than I had to spare squinting at the small print on the shelf of dishwasher tablets, before coming to the earth-shattering conclusion that the massive box, which wouldn’t go under the sink anyway, was more expensive than two smaller ones.

In our “extreme couponing” dreams, I am sure many of us would love to cram our garages with bulk-buy toilet rolls, but in reality, life is too short to dedicate to shopping. The sooner those who attempt to sell us stuff realise this, and the sooner they do all in their power to make the experience as honest and fulfilling as possible, the better the deal for the consumer. I live in hope.