Where the hell’s that bloody gallows?

Misleading buy-one-get-one free offers and special deals in supermarkets could be banned within weeks under a clampdown being prepared by watchdogs, as research reveals such deals are “seducing” shoppers into spending an extra £1,000 a year.
The Telegraph understands the Competition and Markets Authority, the consumer regulator, is finalising plans to take action against Britain’s biggest supermarkets, which stand accused of using unlawful pricing and promotional practices, designed to encourage customers to spend more.
Major stores including Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsburys and Asda are under official investigation after consumer group Which? invoked a rarely-used legal power to launch a “super-complaint” and demand action against supermarkets.

Apparently the supermarkets are very bad boys because they try to make people buy more.

That actually, you know, being the point and purpose of retailing?

77 thoughts on “Where the hell’s that bloody gallows?”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    It is interesting because I just felt a need to subscribe to Which? magazine. It normally sells for £10.75 but they are willing to offer it to me for a quid. A 91% discount.

    If I have a year’s subscription, they are willing to sell it to me for £103.20 instead of the usual £129. A 20% discount.

    What is more they say if I subscribe, they will toss in an iPad for free.

    So, I wonder idly, is this tricking me into spending more money than I should? Growing minds need to know.

  2. The only thing that will stop this kind of shit is brazen defiance of it.

    As soon as they ban it–triple the number of offers.

  3. Mr Ecks, the supermarkets unfortunately have a track record of caving in to government demands, or even going the extra mile – such as with ‘Think 25?’ and the 5p for carrier bags.

  4. “As soon as they ban it–triple the number of offers.”

    Slight problem with that though, isn’t there? The offers are specifically those they think will make them more money. They can’t put out more buy-one-get-one-free offers indiscriminately just to piss off the government or else they’ll end up losing money.

  5. “The Money Advice Service is urging people to make shopping lists”

    They must think we’re fucking stupid. Hang on, we’re paying them to tell us this, we are fucking stupid.

  6. SMFS,

    “What is more they say if I subscribe, they will toss in an iPad for free.”

    Sorry? If you take out a subscription for a year costing about £100, you get an £300 iPad? Care to share the link?

  7. Result: poorer people unable to shop around for deals. Which won’t bother the arrogant middle class twats who run Which.

    It’s nice to see they have “special” legal powers by the way. That’s literal privilege, isn’t it?

  8. oh come on – the point and purpose of retailing might be to flog stuff but that doesn’t mean all tactics are acceptable. For example: lying.
    this is about doing things like loudly proclaiming a bottle of wine has 50% off when the price it had 50% off from was only charged for 10 minutes on one shop in East Fife. Now clever clogs like Worstall commentators might already realise the wise thing to do is ignore any offers and just think do I want to buy product the price, but plenty of people do not think like that, and if we the people are dafties that get duped by tactics like this we the people are bloody well entitled to draft legislation to minimise it.

  9. Luis,

    No. Besides all else, the more you pander to the lowest common denominator, the more people turn into it. If people think they are protected by something, they stop bothering to check whether they are safe or not.

    I see for instance that Which? want to prohibit situations where bigger jars of things are more expensive per unit than small jars of things. It’s currently often the case that a special offer on 100g jars of coffee makes two of them cheaper than one 200g jar. Not being well off, I’m always personally checking all the coffee prices to get the cheapest, visiting whichever supermarket is offering it. From the speed at which (in my exmaple) the 100g jars sell out, it seems a lot of other people are doing the same thing.

    Which? have decided we’re too stupid to be trusted with making purchasing decisions like this, because we’re all idiots who will buy the 200g jar regardless, or something. Just as you seem to think we are.

    Well, no. All this will result in is less offers.

  10. Ian B

    “just as you seem to think we are” – did you stop reading half way through my comment or something?

    also your example is of a special offer which actually is a special offer (i.e. you buy the 100g jar on offer, it is actually cheaper that simply buying the 200g jar not on offer). Do try to keep up.

  11. Zorro: “Now clever clogs like Worstall commentators ”

    Recognise yourself in that description do you?

    “might already realise the wise thing to do”

    So you are wise ? Enough to proscribe for the rest of us–so you believe .

    ” is ignore any offers and just think do I want to buy product the price, but plenty of people do not think like that,”

    So not just wise but wiser –than all those other numpties who just don’t know and can’t manage their miserable pathetic lives. Not without the enforced counsel and help of the wise .

    “and if we the people are dafties that get duped by tactics like this”

    All you numpties…

    ” we the(WISER) people are bloody well entitled to draft legislation to minimise it.”

    …need to be told what to do and prevented from doing otherwise. For your own good as defined by those who are wise and lots wiser than you.

    The very essence of patronising CM bullshit in one short post.

    Gracias Senor Zorro.

  12. My nearest grocery store has a “pick 5 for $25” offer on meats.

    Many of the items in this “offer” are near the sell by date and would normally go to waste. If you want to eat a cheap steak within the next couple days it actually is a good deal.

    What makes me avoid the section completely is the price per pound is adjusted up on many items to fill in the shelves. While the average price for 80% lean ground beef in the normal section averages around $4/lb the 73% lean ground beef in the “5 for $25” section averages $6.30/lb. For a standard weekly shopping run it is far better to buy the normal meats.

    One time I saw a “poor” woman grabbing 5 packs of the overpriced lower quality ground beef and made the effort to explain why she was wasting money. Her response was, in short, f off I’m paying in food stamps.

    Simply banning one type of misleading advertising will only lead to new forms emerging. Consumer educated is not an option as we can’t get government run schools to effectively teach basic arithmetic let alone the more complex steps that would lead to educated consumers. In short government needs to give up on trying to fix stupid.

  13. “… and if we the people are dafties that get duped by tactics like this we the people are bloody well entitled to draft legislation to minimise it.”

    No you’re not. If you “dafties” can’t see deceptive pricing offers until somebody points them out to you, then your problem is already solved: they’ve been pointed out to you, so now you know. Unless you’re a nutter, in which case legislation isn’t going to help because you’re already spending all your cash on dime bars aren’t you?

  14. oh come on – the point and purpose of retailing might be to flog stuff but that doesn’t mean all tactics are acceptable. For example: lying.

    Except when the liars are politicians.

  15. also: if supermarkets find that misleading offers increase sales then we have evidence that a meaningful number of people are fooled by them. If you want to argue that people aren’t daft then you need to argue supermarkets are (because their marketing tactics don’t work).

  16. this is about doing things like loudly proclaiming a bottle of wine has 50% off when the price it had 50% off from was only charged for 10 minutes on one shop in East Fife.

    Eh? I’m pretty sure that is already illegal: an item marked on sale must have been on sale for the “full” price for a certain period.

  17. No, it’s one where the item you thought you were getting for free is the one you pay for and vice versa.

    They’re normally pretty clear that the cheapest item is the free one.

  18. Luis,

    I bothered to read the Which? website, and the kind of offer I used as an example is the same kind as they are saying is misleading.

  19. mike – I am sorry Parliament is not allowed to write legislation about what marketing tactics are legal? OMG but it already has! oh noes

  20. Tim N – quite, it is already illegal. My reading of the Telegraph stories was the complaint was about practises of that ilk but not currently illegal.

    Ian B can you provide a link?

  21. Mr Ecks

    you know what, sometimes I think I do get fooled by misleading “offers” and in recognition of my own foolishness I’d appreciate legislators helping me by proscribing certain sorts of “offer”

    I was being generous and assuming that you and others on this site, however, are not fooled

  22. Zorro: “you know what, sometimes I think I do get fooled by misleading “offers”

    That is your problem. I’ll stand or fall by my own efforts ta very much.

    And even if they were “fooling” me –as you claim without the slightest evidence so far –I would much rather lose a trivial amount of cash than have my life handed over to tinpot political overseers.

    “in recognition of my own foolishness I’d appreciate legislators helping me by proscribing certain sorts of “offer””

    You are Uriah Heap and I claim my £5.

    Since you accept your own numptiness and the unsound nature of your judgement, even in trivial matters, it would seem “wise” that the state should help you in more weighty areas. Deciding who you should marry and where you should live, what work you do etc.

    And if you should be allowed to “contribute” to blogs.

  23. I used to have a subscription to Which? magazine. They spammed me to death when I unsubscribed. Ironically I think they had recently ran an investigation into unscrupulous companies harassing customers.

    Oddly enough their own behaviour doesn’t quite match their magazine’s raison d’être.

  24. http://www.which.co.uk/campaigns/misleading-supermarket-pricing/know-the-issue/

    “Larger pack better value – where the individual item price of the bigger pack is actually more expensive. Example: four cans of Green Giant Original Sweetcorn were on sale for £2 (was £2.44), but six cans were proportionately more expensive, at £3.56. That’s despite the fact the larger pack said ‘special value’ (2014).”

    The link probably doesn’t open the right “tab” on that webpage because it appears to have been written by “mobile first” wankers.

  25. The money off a bottle of wine is interesting. Some of our favourite wine will spend weeks at a full price, then a week or two at reduced price, then back to full price again. We buy when it’s reduced. Anyone else is welcome to play the same game.

  26. Ian B, thanks

    So that’s a larger better value pack being made temporarily relatively worse value by a sale on smaller packs. I agree that’s a very daft thing to complain about.

    Mr Ecks

    either misleading marketing exists or it does not.

    if it does then either you are misled by it or you are not.

    I reckon I am sometimes misled by it, and that some people are more often than me, others less often. You are OUTRAGED.

    Obviously we only want a certain amount of state interference in our lives. Banning outright fraud OK, trying to protect us from the “problem” Ian B shows us Which? are warbling on about, not OK. And equally obviously we the people need to decide for ourselves where to draw the line. Personally I am quite happy with arguments that people ought to fend for themselves – this is pretty much the only right wing blog I comment on, elsewhere i am derided as a neoliberal and right winger. However I am also open to the idea that supermarkets sometimes use misleading marketing tactics that ought be proscribed by law.

  27. Julia that is why I bothered to say anything to her in the first place. Her kids looked like they may have scurvy. If she hadn’t wasted money on the meat those food stamps could have purchased them some fresh fruit. Now because of her actions I am paying even more to cover the medicaid bill.

  28. If we’re going to ban misleading marketing, most of the female population will end up in prison for wearing makeup and foundation garments. When will Which? go to war on the Wonderbra?

  29. “Banning outright fraud OK, trying to protect us from the “problem””

    Banning anything does not stop it.

    I can recall no occasion on which I have been bested by a supermarket. And even if they did without me noticing the amount was trivial. Far less of a problem than inviting the political/bureaucratic scum of the Earth to micro-meddle everywhere. There is no bigger bunch of crooks, liars and “misleaders” than the state. Almost every word out of their gob is lies and deceit.

    You don’t deal with crooks ( IF they supermarkets even are misleading) by inviting worse crooks to involve themselves in the business.

  30. Luis Enrique

    Wouldn’t a better solution to the problem be to educate consumers instead of adding layer upon layer of regulations?

    As the current government run education system is still set up to provide factory drones I am open to suggestions on how to accomplish the needed learning.

  31. LE

    and if we the people are dafties that get duped by tactics like this we the people are bloody well entitled to draft legislation to minimise it.

    But it’s not “we the people”, it’s usually all those revolting authoritarian types (and no I don’t just mean Labour).

    and in recognition of my own foolishness I’d appreciate legislators helping me by proscribing certain sorts of “offer”

    On the basis that you always come across on here as reasonably intelligent, I don’t believe you.

  32. PF

    I think I have bought the odd bottle of cheap crap wine because it claimed to be an expensive one half price, and I think that law preventing mark-downs from egregiously fictitious full prices is probably a good thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if I have fallen victim to other tricks.

    Unlike Ian B I only read the Telegraph article and got the impression it was about similar extreme cases of misleading marketing – but if that example Ian B found is representative, I got that very wrong.

    incidentally, I can comfort myself with the idea that you don’t have to be a daftie to be duped – economists call it “rational inattention”:

    http://www.wiwi.uni-frankfurt.de/profs/macro/RationalInattention.pdf

  33. I watched programs about this, and apparently it’s proven that putting the yellow “special” sticker on the shelf edge increases sales – even if there’s no saving !
    My favourite one was a while ago a colleague asked me to get a can of Relentless while I was out at lunchtime. They were on “special offer” of two for £2. The price for one can ? £1 I used to be with some of the comments above – surely people can see through these tricks ?
    Having been shopping with SWMBO, I start to understand – her school let her down badly to the point where she is afraid of “maths” and finds it almost impossible to compare prices for things in different sizes.
    Other tricks I see. While the supermarkets are required to give price/unit (eg price/100g) to make comparisons easy, they fiddle this. The other day SWMBO was looking for fabric conditioner – some had price/100ml, others had price/wash, so unless you work out how many washes/100ml and do the maths, then you can’t compare them.
    I’ve also seen special offers where the original price tag is there with the non-offer price/100g, but the special price tag doesn’t give a price/100g for the offer.

  34. LE

    Allegedly discounted and tasted like crap – Been there and no doubt in a weak moment will do so again!

    Don’t have to be a daftie to be duped – Yep, agreed

    But yet “more” legislation..?? Please – only when completely necessary? is there not enough for you already? And, btw, what happened to that one law in two out proposal…

  35. The thing is, I noticed this fake mark-down malarkey at my local supermarket ages ago and possibly the reason I noticed it was the loyalty / reward card; because I make repeat trips and buy the same stuff regularly (e.g. tinned tuna fish) I know the prices. So when they put the yellow tag to indicate something is cheaper than normal, I immediately know whether it is or isn’t. So the success of the fake-mark down is limited by the familiarity customers have with prices as encouraged by the loyalty card schemes.

  36. So they’re probably better off trying this on things like whiskeys, underwear or frying pans… stuff each shopper only buys now and again and is unlikely to have the same price familiarity as weekly items.

  37. PF

    you’re right – I am sceptical of what legislation. Here I just meant to argue that complaints about supermarket marketing tactics can be justified.

    even that law about wine pricing probably means they artificially inflate the price for whatever legislated period and then drop it.

    Sales are interesting things – I am vaguely aware of research on it – from a consumers point of view, you want to by something, but if price falls periodically and you are price sensitive, you wait. I guess if legislation that lengthens the time product must be at full price, if underlying product itself is not very appealing at full price, fewer will buy it during full price period and it makes that tactic less profitable for retailers? I haven’t thought it through.

  38. mike

    I buy my frying pans at a restaurant supply store. The quality of the pans is better. Since the normal customers run retail establishments they don’t bother with normal underhanded marketing tricks.

    I do agree that price adjustments on normally purchased items are far easier to spot. However I also believe I am more educated than the average consumer, many of whom don’t bother to remember prices from trip to trip.

  39. Bloody great these offers. Just as porn websites used to be cutting edge technology, these offers are leading indicators of how humans react to visual and mental stimuli.

  40. The one I see a lot in Sainsbury’s is on their own brand dry pasta. Special on 2x 500g bag for £3, while the 1kg bag is regular price at £2.80. (actual numbers made up for illustrative purposes). I always wonder who falls for that shit.

  41. @Mr Ecks
    “I can recall no occasion on which I have been bested by a supermarket. And even if they did without me noticing the amount was trivial.”

    You may be right, but to be sure, you would have to go through each till roll paying meticulous attention to the quantities of each item, the price per item they have charged and the special offers deducted for each item.

    There are many slips twixt what is displayed on the shelf and what someone inputs to the central computer that controls the checkout pricings.

    I try only to go to supermarkets for the BOGOF etc deals on non perishable tins and packets etc and pick up other items from local shops greengrocers, butchers fishmongers and general stores because I find supermarkets such a depressing experience.

  42. BOGOF’s are wonderful. If some of the biomass out there are occasionally deceived, too bad: fools and their money are soon parted.

    Now I am retired we have the time (when in the UK) to shop around, using vouchers giving 10%+ off a shop in a given week. Aldi for washing powder, bog roll, etc. Tesco/Sainsbury to buy discounted wine with vouchers. Waitrose for quality meat, fish and chicken. And my dear wife scours M&S and Waitrose for bargains at the end of the day.

    Now, we are well off, possibly very well off. But thrift comes naturally to us, so we can spend generously when it matters. Thrift is a middle class virtue. The proles just don’t get it. Which is why serious poverty in the UK is a lifestyle choice…

  43. “However I also believe I am more educated than the average consumer, many of whom don’t bother to remember prices from trip to trip.”

    Well it may be that (not remembering prices) or it may be impulse buying and a lack of thrift as Theophrastus says.

    I agree that education is relevant here, but not necessarily in the sense of being wise to pricing tricks (which really requires just basic arithmetic). I think the impulse buying thing might more often be a consequence of boredom as a consequence, in turn, of not having any intellectual interests.

    But this doesn’t just affect the”proles”. A couple of years ago, a very wealthy woman asked me to teach her English. She told me she had a problem on her trips with her husband to the U.S. where, at dinner with customers, she found herself unable to join in the conversations. Turns out that aside from helping her husband with their business, she had no interests beyond food, Facebook, shopping and TV shows. I tried to introduce her to photography and other things but it was a waste of time.

  44. @MC
    ‘They must think we’re fucking stupid. Hang on, we’re paying them to tell us this, we are fucking stupid.’

    Yes, they think we are as stupid as they are.

    ‘Buy one government, get one free.” – GC

    Once you allow government to regulate store sales, they are empowered to regulate EVERYTHING. It’s how the U.S. government grew by millions of employees over the last 50 years. Once they got away with some regulation, regulation exploded. It’s what they do.

    The Telegraph demands fascism!

  45. I think people are underestimating “the proles”. The assumption that they are all being misled is Which?’s, remember. They’re just assuming that.

    The fact is, how much you care about prices depends on how wealthy you are. When I was better off (not well off, just not poor), I didn’t check prices. Just picked the stuff I wanted up, paid, walked out. Once I became more skint, I started checking prices and looking for offers and shit like that.

    I’m guessing this here is middle class people who don’t themselves bother about 10p here and 20p there, assuming their own experience is that of everyone else.

  46. I’m guessing this here is middle class people who don’t themselves bother about 10p here and 20p there, assuming their own experience is that of everyone else.

    Well, guess away, dear boy. Here, in East Anglia, I can show you the wives of multi-millionaires who regularly trawl ‘paupers’ corner’ in the supermarkets. Thrift is a middle class virtue, however rich we may become. The lower orders are extravagant, as are the nouveau riche and the aristocracy. The middle class continues, as the backbone of the nation.

  47. Well I suppose I’m a “prole” and I do that (scan the bargain bins) and more besides. For instance, as a result of the earthquake last weekend which toppled a 17-story building on the other side of the city, my borough doesn’t have any water until next week. Except I do because I’d saved up all the little bottles of water I hadn’t finished over the last year and stored them in large containers (though I still needed to buy a few extra bottles). So either thrift isn’t an exclusively middle-class virtue, or I’m middle class without realizing it.

  48. Waitrose sell a very decent fennel salami that we’ve not equalled at other supermarkets. In a roll, with lettuce and mayo, mmmmmmm.

  49. Those evil bastards at Tesco/Ryanair sold me two steaks/flights for the price of one last week. I’ll probably not be hungry/relaxed enough to eat/enjoy the second one.

    Actually there’s a sizeable minority of the population who would prefer it if all airline flights were sold at the same price (regardless of demand), all train tickets were sold at a fixed price per mile, all domestic gas & electricity were sold at the same price, etc. It would indeed remove the drudgery of shopping around for better deals; but average consumer satisfaction would fall.

  50. “Actually there’s a sizeable minority of the population who would prefer it if all airline flights were sold at the same price (regardless of demand), all train tickets were sold at a fixed price per mile, all domestic gas & electricity were sold at the same price, etc.”
    DOCTOR Ewan Clarke, if memory serves me correctly. But he’s hardly sizeable. More a skinny little c**t who can’t make up his mind over ordering a coffee.

  51. Don’t know about you, Ian, but I always define the “middle class” as “not being able to do an honest day’s work”.

  52. @ bis
    As someone who has done tens of thousands of honest days’ work and has been middle-class all my life, may I suggest that you step outside and say that? (It’s 31F outside round here).

  53. If you’ve done tens of thousands of day’s of honest work, John, you’re deluding yourself. Selling yourself short. You’re working class.

  54. john77,
    At your age, something between 80 and 200 at a guess, you shouldn’t be picking fights.

    It’s 11F here btw.

  55. @ Jack C
    i) My age is well short of 77
    ii) I’m not picking a fight – it would take me two days to get to Spain by which time bis would be hospitalised suffering from exhaustion and hypothermia

  56. @ bis
    As someone who was on the receiving end of class war in 1951, I bloody well know not only that I am not working class but also that the working class agrees with me on that.
    “bloody” above is an adjective, not a pejorative.

  57. It’s about -4 here. Because I’m a lot closer than you think. Be afraid! I do confess a middle class trait. i don’t share the working class regard for fair play & honour.

  58. “i don’t share the working class regard for fair play & honour.”

    Nicely played.

    Were you thinking of cricket? The idea of cricket and fair play was always a myth outside the PR department of the MCC. And the MCC is a byword for shittiness and skulduggery the world over.

  59. @ Jack C
    More than ten thousand is tens of thousands given that any rational number greater than the integer 1 is plural.
    What happened is that I learned about fractions as a pre-teen.
    Don’t they teach fractions over there?
    I try not to do paid work on Sundays but I don’t always succeed.

  60. @ bis
    “i don’t share the working class regard for fair play & honour.”
    In that case *you* be afraid – my subconscious dislikes cheats and dirty fighters, even worse than it dislikes bullies.

  61. john77,
    “Tens” means multiples of 10, so at least 20,000 …. correct?

    At 250 working days a year, that’s 80 years.

    I think we all learned fractions as pre-teens. We did English as well. And division.

  62. @ Jack C
    No, not correct.
    Nor is 250 working days a year – I am self-employed. It is over 300.
    Note “I try not to do paid work on Sundays but I don’t always succeed.”
    It’s actually nearer 20,000 than 10,000 by now if I include unpaid work; I’ll probably get to 20,000 before I get to 80.

  63. When I was at school we were the trial year for the “Schools Mathematics Project” which included lessons in shopping, price comparison, saving and loan interest, bus timetables, wallpapering, painting, practical everyday stuff. Was teaching sums abandoned as soon as my cohort left school?

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