Supermarkets were today accused of a loyalty scheme scam designed to make savings look bigger than they really are.
Tesco and Sainsbury’s appear to be increasing the ‘regular’ price on household essentials before then offering what look like big reductions for those using loyalty cards.
Evidence uncovered by Which? covers a wide range of products from brands such as Nescafe, Heinz, Andrex, Persil, Cadbury, Quaker and Peroni.
Its findings – described by the group as amounting to ‘potentially dodgy tactics’ – have been reported to watchdogs at the Competition and Markets Authority, which is investigating supermarket prices.
The consumer champion analysed 141 Tesco Clubcard and Sainsbury’s Nectar card prices and tracked their pricing history back six months.
Some 29 per cent were at their so-called ‘regular’ price, which is used as the benchmark for claimed savings, for less than 50 per cent of the six months.
Sainsbury’s advertised a jar of Nescafé Gold Blend Instant Coffee (200g) with a Nectar card price of £6 – a saving of £2.10 on the ‘regular’ price of £8.10. But the standard price had been £6 until shortly before the promotion.
Meanwhile, Tesco advertised Heinz Salad Cream (605g) with a Clubcard price of £3.50 and a ‘regular’ price of £3.90. However, its regular price had been £2.99 for several weeks before it was increased to £3.90.
A pack of Persil laundry pods was marketed by Tesco at a Clubcard price of £10.80 compared to a regular price of £12. However, Which? said the regular price had been even lower at £10 eight weeks earlier.
A pack of Jammie Dodgers biscuits was offered at a Clubcard price of 65p versus a regular price of 80p. However, Which? said the real regular price in previous months was 75p, which meant the saving was not as big as it appeared.
A multipack of four Cadbury Dairy Milk bars was marketed by Sainsbury’s at a Nectar card price of £1.50 versus a regular price of £1.65, but the same product had been sold at the offer price just one month before.
A pack of nine Andrex Classic Clean toilet rolls had a Nectar price of £5.25 versus a regular price of £6.25. However, the regular price had been £5.75 three weeks earlier, suggesting the saving was not as big as it appeared.
Which? also found that the regular prices quoted by Tesco and Sainsbury’s were often far higher than what other supermarkets charged for these same products.
Recent surveys by the organisation have found a collapse in shoppers’ trust in supermarkets with many believing they are prioritising protecting their profits.
It also found that many people are effectively excluded from joining the loyalty schemes.
This is because there are often age and address-based restrictions that mean vulnerable groups, such as young parents and carers, schoolchildren buying lunch and those in temporary accommodation could be denied membership.
Sue Davies, Which? head of food policy, said: ‘It’s not surprising that shoppers are questioning whether supermarket loyalty card prices are really a good deal, as our investigation shows that up to a third of loyalty offers at Tesco and Sainsbury’s are not all they’re cracked up to be.
‘As member-only pricing continues to grow, the sector, its pricing practices and who is eligible for membership needs to be properly scrutinised so that all shoppers – including society’s most vulnerable – can benefit and no one is misled into buying things they wouldn’t have usually bought or which isn’t quite the deal they believe it to be.’
She added that Which? was calling on supermarkets to ‘make sure that their loyalty card prices don’t mislead and for the regulator to look more closely at this growing trend towards dual pricing’.