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Major supermarkets have been slammed by a competition watchdog after a three-month probe, saying their pricing is “confusing”.
The investigation was launched after a ‘super-complaint’ from the consumer group Which?, contending that pricing practices in the supermarket industry were “misleading and opaque”.
The complaint identified four key problem areas: potentially misleading special offers, unit pricing, price-matching schemes and changing pack sizes.
As part of its inquiry, the Competition and Markets Authority found examples of “pricing and promotional practices that have the potential to confuse or mislead consumers”, but concluded that the problems are not widespread or systematic.
As reported by Sky News yesterday , the CMA has announced a series of measures designed to bring more clarity to the supermarket sector, including recommending the Government publish guidelines on best practices.
They also recommended a simplification of the legislation around unit-pricing, which allows consumers to compare the cost of similar products by listing the price of a specific volume of the item – for example, the amount the product costs per 100ml.
Which? had argued that supermarkets were purposefully confusing customers by failing to keep the comparison unit consistent.
They offered examples where the unit price of one product was listed per 100ml while another similar product was unit-priced per 100g.
CMA senior director Nisha Arora said: “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.”
In response to the report, Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “The CMA’s report confirms what our research over many years has repeatedly highlighted; there are hundreds of misleading offers on the shelves every day that do not comply with the rules.
“This puts supermarkets on notice to clean up their pricing practices or face legal action.
“Given the findings, we now expect to see urgent enforcement action from the CMA.
“The Government must also quickly strengthen the rules so that retailers have no more excuses.
“As a result of our super-complaint, if all the changes are implemented widely, this will be good for consumers, competition and, ultimately, the economy.”
:: The supermarket sector was worth an estimated £148-178bn to the UK economy in 2014.
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