In Depth

New deal: How supermarket offers are changing

Most big supermarket chains have changed the way they try to lure buyers. Now Asda is being forced to follow suit

Asda has been publicly criticised this week for its misleading special offers. After receiving a dressing down from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the supermarket giant will now have to change the way it promotes deals and stop a number of its multi-buy offers. 

The CMA is cracking down on multi-buy deals following a super-complaint from the consumer group Which? about confusing pricing at the supermarkets. Back in February, Sainsbury, Tesco and Morrisons announced plans to phase out controversial deals such as BOGOF (buy one get on free) after Which? revealed that they often represent poor value for the consumer.

At the time Asda said it was going to focus on lower everyday prices and reduce its multi-buy offers but the CMA has revealed that Asda is the only supermarket it had to force to comply with the new standards.

"Supermarkets which are not willing to abide by the rules should be publicly shamed as they are using confusing pricing for their own commercial gain," James Daley, director of the consumer body Fairer Finance, told the Daily Telegraph.

"Once customers know supermarkets and trust that they offer good value it is easy to tempt them to spend more with misleading deals. Companies deliberately do this to confuse and deceive customers. The CMA must send out the message that no matter how big they are they are not above the law and the rules."

The end of BOGOF

The CMA has drawn up new guidelines that will mean the end of many of the deals we are used to seeing when we do our food shopping.

Firstly, supermarkets cannot advertise 'Now' prices for longer than the 'was' price was applied, so that there is a meaningful comparison for customers. This means the end of a product being sold at an inflated price for a few days so that the supermarket can make it look like they are offering you a bargain when they cut the price.

Secondly, multi-buy offers must represent better value than a single product before the offer. A multi-buy offer can't be immediately followed by a 'was/now' promotion so that shoppers will find it easier to tell what is a good offer.

All the other major supermarkets had voluntarily complied with the rules but Asda had to be forced. The supermarket giant has now made a written commitment to change its deals.

"The CMA's examination of the market following the super-complaint, found that supermarkets generally take compliance seriously, but there were some promotional practices that could mislead shoppers," Michael Grenfell, executive director of enforcement at the CMA told the Daily Mail.

"We welcome the commitment we have received from Asda as well as the engagement from other supermarkets, and expect them all to ensure that their practices are not misleading and that shoppers are better informed and able to choose the products that most suit their needs."

In the future it is hoped that customers will find it easier to identify good value deals thanks to more straightforward offers. But, multi-buy offers and dodgy was/now deals don't yet breach consumer law.

Trading Standards is now looking into revising its Pricing Practices Guide and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is set to consult on reviewing legislation.

"Our super-complaint and actions taken by the authorities should serve as a clear warning to all retailers," says Richard Lloyd of Which? "If they try to pull the wool over consumers' eyes they will not get away with it. Retailers must get their house in order."

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