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Supermarket special offers that aren't so special

Head to the supermarket and you’re bound to be tempted by special offers in a bid to save a quid or two. However, a new report reveals these can sometimes be misleading – and some don’t even offer savings.

Items on promotion make up around 40% of our supermarket shop, and though they can cost you less money, there are instances where there’s no real saving to be made.

The results of a three month investigation by the Competition and Market Authority (CMA) were released today, and it found “examples of pricing and promotional practices that have the potential to confuse or mislead consumers”.

The investigation was launched after a complaint by consumer organisation Which?, and the CMA says it will work with the supermarket chains to cut the misleading practices.

It doesn’t mean you can’t get better value by taking advantage of discounts and deals, you just need to make sure it really is a special offer.

So what are some of the non-deals you might have fallen for? We’ve rounded up the big ones to be careful of. 

Price cuts

Promotions featuring a “was/now” price change sticker suggest a price cut. However there are times when the item was only at the higher price for a short time. Watch out for this in particular on seasonal items such as Easter Eggs.

Unit pricing

A good way to see if you are getting the best value is to compare the unit price. Most supermarket items will have a note on the shelf label telling you the price per unit (eg grams, ml etc) to make it easier for you to compare different sized options.

However, some don’t make it easy for you to then work out which is the best value. Rather than showing you the same unit, you might find they use different measures.

For example, bananas in a pack could have a price per banana, while the unit price of a similar pack could be shown as price per gram.


If you need more than one of an item, multibuys (eg Buy One Get One Free) can often save you cash.

Be careful though. Some supermarkets have been found to increase single unit prices when they’re in a promotion.

So while a normal price for a big pack of crisps might be £1.50, they might go up to £2 a bag while part of a two for £3 deal.

There are also examples where multibuys only save pennies – if anything at all.  

Confusing packaging

You might find a bigger pack is labelled “value pack”, and think that means it’s the best value. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes the case that it is cheaper to buy the smaller packs.

You might also get caught out by shrinking packaging (and less contents within) but prices staying the same.

What do you think?

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  • derek larkin / 28 August 2017

    can an item on a promotion for £7.00 be raised to £7.50 whilst still on promotion or does the promotion have to end then raise the actual price and then repromote the same item for more than the £7.00 promotion, does this impeach fair trading standards for customers? Is this legal? or is there on legal guide lines to protect customers rights on purchasing deals ? (forget multibuyonly answe anyone comes up with) would be nice if someone in commerce can answer this particular question and Not skate round it giving the implication they dont know? aresponce would be apreciated thanks.

  • Stuart / 30 July 2017

    So, I shop mainly st ASDA and Tesco's, but sometimes elsewhere if the offers are right. I also monitor Amazon Pantry. The issue of recurring special offers that are actually the normal price is rife now, and over the past few years getting worse. If we look at Arial or Bold 38 washing capsules, for instance, the price in all shops will hit £9 briefly, then revert to the special offer price of £6 (£5 for 30 capsules). The price never goes under £6 anywhere. Similarly for such things as £1 for 4 chocolate bars, and numerous other items. Not so special at all.

  • Robert Banks / 20 April 2017

    M&S and Waitrose both do this thing where then have 3 items for £10 of 3 for the price of 2 - but they place items not included in the deal in among those that are and its not clear. So the only way to know for sure is to check your till receipt carefully - then you have the bother of trying to exchange or refund. Am I paranoid or to they rely on the fact that most people wont bother or even notice?

  • Teresa / 2 August 2016

    Ttransfer money to my postoffice card acount

  • Jimmy Simpson / 25 August 2015

    A certain very large supermarket chain beginning with 'T' are really out to do their customers; they put shareholders first and aren't fit to be trusted. In the past they pumped up the price of goods weighing say, one kilo so that they were more expensive than buying two X 500gms of the same product. As for their half-price wines they are a joke. However they are now reaping the whirlwind of their dishonesty as customers choose to shop elsewhere!

  • Brian Rollinson / 12 August 2015

    Retailers big & small are so well organised that confusing pricing is a deliberate ploy . It is therefore inteded deception. Is an attempt to deliberately deceive against the law?

  • santokh ghai / 11 August 2015

    you are right
    I have always kept in mind the issues you've raised while shopping, sometimes comparing prices in two supermarkets

  • C Davison / 11 August 2015

    Very rare is the genuine deal.
    Also be aware of a text scam telling you 'congratulation' from or 'thanks' from any of the leading supermarkets.

  • Chris Appleby / 10 August 2015

    Seen on a pre-printed 'water filter cartridge' pack -
    '3........2 + 1 FREE', isn't that the same as '1/3 off'?

  • Stephen Telford / 10 August 2015

    Sainsburys do this all the time. Two classic examples are tinned tomatoes, sometimes the multi pack is cheaper, sometimes the single tins, and with bacon, it is often buy two packs for £5 or next time it is on offer, normal price £3 but now £2.50 for a single pack. Shame on them!

  • Maureen Jenner / 10 August 2015

    Yes I check, assiduously and agree with your findings. Shopping takes up a great deal of time. It results in my dreading the weekly trip to top-up the grocery store. I could use shop-on-line, but prefer to see what I'm buying. By the time I've walked the length of the supermarket in one direction; turned into the various aisles; found the products on my shopping list, examined their cost plus value-for-money, etc., and return to the check-out I feel exhausted. Shopping is not a pleasure, but a time-consuming chore that I do once only on a Saturday.

  • Caitleen Dineen-Main / 10 August 2015

    I complained to Sainsburys last year as they had value blueberries that were more expensive than their ordinary ones. The packs were different sizes so it was difficult to compare prices unless you were good at maths. I complained to the department manager at first, but his maths was so bad he didn't understand what I was talking about. In response to my email to customer services they blamed the way they sourced the goods (which didn't make sense), but said they're remedy the situation. I noticed they did for a while but have noticed them doing this with lots of other goods. I'm too tired to fight their cynical treatment of the average customer.

  • Anne Freeman / 10 August 2015

    Promotional goods sadly get us buying things we did not even come in for just because we think they are cheap. Nothing is a bargain if we dont need it. If the promotional item is something we use all the time and know the true price of then if its offered at least 50c to a $1 cheaper then I would get it.

  • Jane Middleton / 9 August 2015

    I wish I could say something better but I really am glad I have never had to pay for your service. Your "hype" always sounds good and interesting - you actual material unfortunately is nothing more astounding than basic common sense. I'm removing myself from your list.

  • Josephine Crayton / 9 August 2015

    The biggest con has got to be prices per single item instead of the usual price by weight. I love Morrisons own sausages but was charged 35p each today. Also beef tomatoes are priced each. Just 2 examples. I intend to buy some sausages next week and I wonder how the butcher will react when I ask him to weigh them? I will probably have to bring them home to weigh them. On second thoughts there are weighing scales on the veg department. As I keep all my receipts for at least two months I can see if they have gone up . What is the betting?

  • Rob Ennis / 9 August 2015

    If the word 'misleading' was changed to 'fraudulence' or 'scamming' or 'stealing' (all of which are more true), then there would be a law against it. If I did any of the above I'd probably find myself imprisoned , or at least in Court. What will happen to the supermarkets in these cases? (I wont hold my breath waiting for an answer other than 'nothing').

  • Roy Knight / 9 August 2015

    Another one I'm waiting to see is what us happening with Asda tea selection. I really like their own label Darjeeling tea bags priced at £1.38 for 50. However, recently these and the other products in the range have disappeared from the shelves. Is this a ruse for a price hike? Sainsbury's equivalent is £1.50

  • A Davies / 9 August 2015

    A friend bought price reduced special offer prawns at Lidl on Friday. Then after eating for supper, was still vomiting plus diarrhoea Sat eve.

  • Roy Knight / 9 August 2015

    Good example is ASDA Shades toilet rolls. A 9 pack is priced at £2.97 equal to 3 rolls for £1. However, a 12 pack is priced at £4.50, where 3 rolls cost £1.16
    ASDA seem to be masters at this type if pricing structure.

  • Bronwen Corrall / 9 August 2015

    Shop at Aldi. The price is the price and much lower than at the other shops that offer all those special deals you can never work out.

  • Andrea / 9 August 2015

    I always read the unit price but what I hate is when they put the price up when they do a buy 2 for whatever. It looks cheap but isn't. They can con you. And multi buy,, why always on chocolate or crisps? Why not more essentials? We really need these reductions on essentials.

  • Robert / 9 August 2015

    One of the large supermarket chains has a trick whereby they display fruit juice cartons on a "3 for 2" offer but the offer is very deceptive, as more than once I have found I've been charged separately because one of the products is not in the promotion , even though the product is the same "own brand" same size, maybe just a different juice. I do wonder why this particular supermarket persists with this little deception, I've seen many customers venting their anger about it to the Customer Services desk.

  • Lorraine Baff / 9 August 2015

    I usually buy asda own brand biscuits two weeks ago they were between 40 - 50 pence each of £1.00 for three packs. this averages out at 33 pence a pack a good deal I feel. This week the packs are 55 - 60 pence each. And £1.50 for three packs which means 50 pence a pack. I knows it's only pennies but there are about 15 changes this weeks shopping and its all on lower priced product for those on very small budgets. The changes have meant that my shopping this fortnight has increased by. £5.20 that I didn't have so had to replace the only treats I buy budget ice lollies at £1.00 biscuits and 66pence crisps. I can't comment on non budget options.

  • Norman Elliott / 9 August 2015

    I have noticed that sometimes supermarkets have items in wire cages in the isles. For example a 4 pack of beans with the price displayed on a piece of card attached to the cage. No suggestion that it is a special offer but I have seen people putting then in their trolley. In the case of beans I checked the individual prices on the shelves and taking 4 of them would have been 62 pence cheaper than the 4 pack.

  • Carol / 9 August 2015

    Another sharp practice is gap filling on shelves when an item has sold out - often replaced by the item next to it or in filled with something similar. I've lost count of the times this happens at my local branch of ?&? and the replacement item is more expensive.
    I worry for older customers who can't easily read small print on shelf labels, don't check receipts on trust due to this particular retailer's established reputation for good customer service. I have complained to no avail!

  • Mags / 9 August 2015

    I shop quite often in germany and find their normal price for many things is the half price offer price here. It is so obvious they double the price here simply to state it's half price...needless to say I shop even more in germany now, you know what you get is the price, no gimmicks and no having to wait until what you want is on offer again!

  • Cristal / 9 August 2015

    I also check unit pricing - it is essential if you want to know if you are getting a good deal. Larger packs are often more expensive per unit than smaller packs - a good example is Tesco's own brand Gold coffee. It's all a bit of a con really. Also it's worth buying refill packs and filling up your own jars at home.

  • Maisie / 9 August 2015

    I got caught out only last night by my supermarket changing the size of their pasta packs. It used to be one pack of 400g would serve 2 people, with the recommended size being 200g per person, but now they supply the pack as a 350g size, recommending a portion size of 170g per person. Either they were giving us too much before or now too little, but still at the same price! I'm pretty sure it's not out of concern for our health...

  • Good grief / 16 July 2015

    Enough already of money saving tips! No blogs you do increase financial capability. Concentrate on big society issues