UK supermarkets sign up to new principles on promotions

Tesco's profit slide in home market

Eight supermarkets in the UK have agreed to abide by new guidelines on special offers and promotions, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) announced today.

The agreement with the OFT has been signed by Aldi, Co-Op, Lidl, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.

The new OFT principles address the watchdog’s concerns over the fairness of promotional claims for food and drink, such as when a product is sold at an artificially inflated price for a limited period in just a few stores in order to make a later “discount” look more attractive.

Pre-printed value claims on packs must also be true, the OFT said. For example when a package states “Bigger Pack, Better Value” there should not be a cheaper way of buying the same volume of the product elsewhere in the same store.

According to the OFT the new guidelines are intended ensure that consumers can trust supermarket offers to be fair and meaningful regarding the value of the product or the existence of a discount.

The agreement follows an investigation into the supermarket sector by the OFT which examined concerns that shoppers could be confused by the way prices are displayed, advertised and promoted. As part of its study the watchdog conducted mystery shopping exercises, a consumer survey and a round-table attended by consumer groups, industry associations and the supermarkets, as well as bilateral meetings with the supermarkets.

Although it did not conclude that the supermarkets were engaging in misleading promotional practices, the OFT did identify inconsistency in the way the law was being interpreted and applied. The new principles are designed to establish a more consistent approach across the sector, it said.

Consumer group Which? welcomed the OFT’s clarification on the use of special offers and discounts. Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, called on the supermarkets to go even further “so that as well as scrapping misleading promotions they ensure busy shoppers see clear, consistent unit pricing with real bargains that are easy to spot at a glance.”

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