Competition regulator to take action to protect shoppers from misleading supermarket promotions

16th July 2015


The Competition and Markets Authority has found evidence suggesting that the UK’s supermarkets are misleading shoppers.

Following a three-month investigation the regulator found examples of pricing and promotional practices that have “the potential to confuse or mislead consumers and which could be in breach of consumer law”.

In a statement, the CMA said “where there is evidence of breaches of consumer law this could lead to enforcement action”.

The analysis of the sector follows a complaint by consumer group Which?.

The watchdog submitted the super-complaint on 21 April 2015, raising concerns about confusing and misleading promotions and a lack of easily comparable prices because of the limitations of unit pricing.

Which? claimed that it had uncoverer hundreds of examples of “misleading and confusing pricing tactics”.

In response to the Which? super-complaint, the CMA is to bring in a series of measures “to improve compliance, bring greater clarity to shoppers and simplify the regulations”.

In its work following up on the investigation the CMA will work with businesses to cut out promotional practices, which could mislead consumers.

This includes the practice of running ‘was/now’ promotions where the discount price is advertised as a promotion for longer than the higher price applied.

To improve compliance the CMA also recommends that, in its ongoing review of the ‘Pricing Practices Guide’, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute clarifies how the legislation applies to certain promotional practices.

The CMA also recommends that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) publishes best practice guidelines on the legibility of unit prices, and looks at ways to simplify and clarify legislation, including how the law requires items to be unit-priced when they are on promotion. The CMA has also published ‘at-a-glance’ guidance to help consumers make better use of unit pricing.

Nisha Arora, CMA senior director, consumer, said: “We welcomed the super-complaint, which presented us with information that demanded closer inspection. We have gathered and examined a great deal of further evidence over the past three months and are now announcing what further action we are taking and recommending others to take.

“We have found that, whilst supermarkets want to comply with the law and shoppers enjoy a wide range of choices, with an estimated 40% of grocery spending being on items on promotion, there are still areas of poor practice that could confuse or mislead shoppers. So we are recommending further action to improve compliance and ensure that shoppers have clear, accurate information.”

Speaking to the BBC, Alex Neill from Which? said: “We are pleased to see that the CMA hasn’t ruled out taking action.”

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