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September 29, 2010 3:26 AM   Subscribe

A Which? survey has found that supermarket deals actually offer a worse price for the customer. But to the vigilant folk of Flickr, this is old news.

More bargains here. And for discussion of pricing mistakes on lemon curd (as well as some handy discount codes) try Hot UK Deals - if you want to catch some dubious deals of your own, check the BOGOF page..
posted by mippy (50 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Dear sir,
I would like to inquire about your Soil Aertator.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:34 AM on September 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Caveat emptor is old news.
posted by pompomtom at 3:34 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah I have seen that 37p each/3 for £1.15 sweetcorn thing in Sainsburys myself and thought WTF. I wouldn't mind as I always check the "£ per 100g" thing on the label to work out what's the best value, but the "Bigger Pack, Better Value" branding on the worse-value multi-pack really pisses me off. It is literally a lie.

In other amusing price label shenanigans, I have seen one in Maplins that said:
Was: £9.99
Now: £14.99
SAVE: -50%

Yeah great.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:38 AM on September 29, 2010 [8 favorites]


pricing mistakes on lemon curd
That's the fifth sign of the apocalypse, isn't it?
posted by Abiezer at 4:01 AM on September 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


Maybe people just like paying a premium to carry less packages? Has nobody thought to mention that? Hurrumph!
posted by Dio at 4:03 AM on September 29, 2010


I would NOT recommend checking price per 100g on make-up.

( I was in a Superdrug queue yesterday with hairdye, waterproof mascara, shaving foam, toenail clippers and body lotion and thinking how much cheaper it would be if I was living on a remote island. )
posted by mippy at 4:05 AM on September 29, 2010


Australia has had legislated unit pricing in larger supermarkets since late 2009.
posted by Duke999R at 4:07 AM on September 29, 2010


It used to be almost always cheaper to buy the bigger package. Now I have to do the math every time. And sometimes they deliberately make it hard to compare, with one package size being priced per ounce, and another size priced by the unit, for example.
posted by Forktine at 4:08 AM on September 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think they may be mistaking math incompetence for genuine malevolence in this case. Sainsburys in particular appears to have a team that cannot do simple maths as you quickly learn if you buy their generic items and are counting calories. For example. These errors are pretty common.
posted by srboisvert at 4:13 AM on September 29, 2010


So-called ‘big value’ packs are often pricier than regular sizes, says Which?

Even though I know the question mark is part of the magazine's title, my internal voice goes up at the end while reading that. Not relevant, but a curiosity. (Is having an internal voice while reading a bit like moving one's lips?)

Sainsbury’s said: ‘We reject the accusation we have illegally misled customers.’

For which, read: "We have misled customers, but in a way our lawyers say is entirely legal".

I've noticed this so often in Tesco (packs of rice, for example, that get more expensive per gram as the packs get larger; four tins of tuna fish less expensive than a four-pack of the same tins) that, like EndsOfInvention I automatically check the £/100g reading these days, and the smaller-is-cheaper thing is becoming the rule rather than the exception.

I mean, supermarkets are evil, aren't they? I wouldn't be surprised if the chairman of Tesco sits in a big office in a dormant volcano, surrounded by pools filled with piranha fish, stroking a white persian cat.
posted by Grangousier at 4:18 AM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Damnit... and I thought I was all clever and stuff for spotting this fantastic deal in Tesco.

When I worked for Tesco (maaaaaany moons ago) they were still doing the "if you find a mistake on your bill, the item is free" thing. Cost them a bloody fortune. So they stopped doing it...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 4:20 AM on September 29, 2010


I've aways noticed this on Sainsbury's peanut butter (the medium is cheaper per gram than small or large) but it didn't occur to me that it was endemic across the store.

Australia has had legislated unit pricing in larger supermarkets since late 2009.

Well yeah, the UK has had it for years but, as these examples show, the consumer still has to actively check the tiny unit price sticker whilst the supermarket's much bigger labelling (and the consumer's own out-dated commonsense that bigger is cheaper) is misdirecting them.
posted by ninebelow at 4:26 AM on September 29, 2010


Having been well poor, hubby and I always check price/kg on everything we buy, so I guess we're immune to this kind of scam. Is that really so rare, though? I thought everyone was equipped with enough common sense to spend half a second comparing unit prices?

But then, luckily, this evil plot doesn't seem to have reached France's shores. (Wouldn't be surprised if it did, though, Monoprix already feels it has the right to sell everything for sometimes up to three times the price of chains like ED or Franprix).
posted by Mooseli at 4:32 AM on September 29, 2010


When I worked for Tesco (maaaaaany moons ago) they were still doing the "if you find a mistake on your bill, the item is free" thing. Cost them a bloody fortune. So they stopped doing it...

My sister used to do exactly this at Asda. That supermarket also had a policy where if you didn't like an own-brand product, you could get a refund AND a replacement.
posted by mippy at 4:33 AM on September 29, 2010


You make me laugh. My mother, of six children, will soundly refute your conjecture, with her coordinated meals, comprised of each of the loss leaders from all of the local supermarkets. And she'll return to the store with the fat cut from the roast, and demand it's weight in meat back from the butcher, and get it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:33 AM on September 29, 2010 [14 favorites]


Large supermarkets can carry 40 thousand or so products at any given point in time. Pricing is different for some items in supermarkets vs convenience formats of the same retailer.

Some items are priced by weight. Others by unit. With ongoing and regular promotions, pricing changes from suppliers and so forth it's not a massive surprise that errors will creep in.

Which? has found 600 examples of incorrect pricing. If you take 40,000 items in each of the big five UK supermarkets, that equates to an error rate of 0.3%.

Supermarkets have lots of retailer tactics to upsell their customers. Having some level of pricing opacity is part of it. Switching customers to own brands, shelf positioning, below the line marketing and creating value and premium options is a big part of it. A common tactic is overplaying the deal - "like buy 2 for £1.50" when the unit price is £71p.

Intentionally dicking customers out of 20p by pricing 0.3% of products badly is not one of those strategies.

Which? should have bigger fish to fry than this. Like supermarket retailer margins on milk, or how they negotiate with suppliers. Putting out crappy news stories about a twin pack being 20p more expensive than the sum of 2 items is neither news nor consumer advocacy and just highlights that they know f**k all about retailing.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:42 AM on September 29, 2010 [18 favorites]


Now I have to do the math every time.

Some time ago I noticed at the health food store that 100 vitamins costs 6 times more than 25. When I pointed that out to the the store's owner, she simply said, "You wouldn't know if you didn't look, would you?"
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:43 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


the chairman of Tesco sits in a big office in a dormant volcano, surrounded by pools filled with piranha fish, stroking a white persian cat

I read that as "smoking a white Persian cat" and am disappointed at the reality.
posted by WalterMitty at 4:43 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


with one package size being priced per ounce, and another size priced by the unit, for example.

Ha, yeah with mayonnaise in jars and squeezy bottles, one is priced per ml and the other per g. Can never quite recall the average density of mayo at STP. I think we missed that in Chemistry class.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:54 AM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Aw, MuffinMan, way to spoil the fun with a bucket of cold logic. (Thanks)
posted by evilmomlady at 4:55 AM on September 29, 2010


I've noticed this so often in Tesco (packs of rice, for example, that get more expensive per gram as the packs get larger.

Package pricing is completely irrelevant in this situation. If you buy your rice from a UK supermarket you are getting ripped off no matter what size you buy.

Get yourself to a Chinese Market or to Halal grocery store and you can buy your rice in bulk for around 1/10th the price.

Ditto for spices.
posted by srboisvert at 4:55 AM on September 29, 2010 [7 favorites]


I haven't noticed this phenomena in Ontario yet, but I rarely buy things in big packs, save TP, and I'm diligent in checking the per unit price on that. I don't know if they are required to here, but all the big supermarkets seem to have per unit pricing on the tags on the shelves. I would wager most people are too busy when shopping to check out all those things, especially if you're not shopping alone.
posted by glip at 5:22 AM on September 29, 2010


Any given week at Kroger, the half-gallon or the gallon of milk might be cheaper in unit cost. This irritates me more than I ought to let it.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:22 AM on September 29, 2010


I wouldn't be surprised if the chairman of Tesco sits in a big office in a dormant volcano, surrounded by pools filled with piranha fish, stroking a white persian cat.

This is Tesco House, Tesco's head office in Cheshunt on Google Streetview.

It is a horrible building, in a scabby road, on a crumbling industrial estate on the edge of the toilet town that is Cheshunt. The only saving grace is that part of the Lea Vally Park is nearby on the right side of the tracks.

I think they've gone for the WalMart approach when it comes to head offices.

It will cease being the lair of Sir Terry Leahy from March next year as he is retiring. He does live in Cuffley, childhood home of Victoria Beckham, which has no volcanoes either. However, posh cats & fancy fish no doubt abound...
posted by i_cola at 5:36 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Note that all of the links in the FPP have to do with European retail. Not that surprising, given their source. But it's been my experience that the bigger package has tended to cost more per unit price in Europe for years. Like since the 1990s, which is the first time I was over there.

Why is this news? The European retail and service industry is notoriously consumer unfriendly and proprietor friendly. The grocery store my friends frequented in southern Germany stopped stocking peanut butter because it sold too fast. The mind boggles.
posted by valkyryn at 5:40 AM on September 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think they've gone for the WalMart approach when it comes to head offices.

Considering that Wal-Mart's corporate office looks like a Wal-Mart and backs up on a cemetery, that's saying something.

Holy crap, that place looks depressing. And I even like Wal-Mart.
posted by valkyryn at 5:47 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is that really so rare, though? I thought everyone was equipped with enough common sense to spend half a second comparing unit prices?

If you've never had a reason to do it (thrift, poverty), it's not generally a skill you develop. I sometimes need to remind mrs ozzy to check unit pricing when we shop. She, on the other hand, has to make decisions about almost-but-not-quite-fungible goods when the unit pricing is too similar for me to make a call. (I seriously freeze up buying Band-Aids; too many choices. I'm a little bit insane.)
posted by uncleozzy at 5:56 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is a horrible building, in a scabby road, on a crumbling industrial estate on the edge of the toilet town that is Cheshunt.

True, but they've been there for a bloody long time. My mum worked for them there before at some point before I was born (so at least 35 years ago).

She always claimed that she 'broke' one of their security dogs at Deleware Road. She was working late and no-one had told security. When we walked out the back door, a GSD came charging at her. It never occurred to her that it was dangerous (she wasn't always the brightest) and held her arms open to hug it. And gave it's belly a rub. From that point onwards it used to run up to intruders and roll over onto its back.

And, since i'm telling stories you aren't interested in, Leahy's predecessor (Ian MacLaurin) was a very down to earth man. He turned up at his (nearly) local Tesco in Baldock on a regular basis - allegedly to use the staff canteen while his wife was doing the shopping.

On on occasion my brother turned up for his lunch and too a seat at the only remaining table. The old guy there spent half an hour talking about cricket and who should be on the England cricket team. It was only after my brother went down from lunch that he found out this old guy was the Chairman of Tesco and (I think) head of the MCC selection committee.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 5:59 AM on September 29, 2010 [7 favorites]


In addition to the very good advise unthread re: checking price per kg, you've also got to watch the prices when you check out.

When we do the weekly shop I mentally add up prices as items are dropped in the cart. I generally hit the till total plus / minus about three to four percent.

BUT WATCH THE DISPLAY -- Sainsburys used to be amazingly consistent in that what was marked wasn't what you paid. They have gotten their act together in a big way over the past year or so, but until recently it wasn't uncommon for me to spot errors where it counts - when they are totalling your bill.

Mrs Mutant and I share the bagging duties (we pack light as we later use them for rubbish, preferring not to purchase bin bags) and I generally track prices registered against what was marked.

Each week we purchase pretty much the same items, I know when the store has adjusted marked prices up or down (mostly up these days it seems, as the pound deteriorates) so errors are pretty easy to spot when (if?) they happen.

And if errors happen, don't be afraid to write corporate. They're generally pretty good about doling out coupons / Nectar / loyalty points if you take the time to write. Which I ALWAYS do, as the customer shouldn't have to verify if their tills are working.
posted by Mutant at 6:16 AM on September 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Dropbox also offers 50gb and 100gb plans. Two 50gb plans are cheaper than one 100gb plan - hardly a reward for the up-buyer, eh?
posted by davemee at 6:21 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is that really so rare, though? I thought everyone was equipped with enough common sense to spend half a second comparing unit prices?

That's not always easy. Sometimes the big container will have a price label in $/oz or $/g, while the small container will have a label of $/ea. So then to really compare you have to do fun maths in your head. Quick, what's $2.89 divided by 437g? For most people, there's only so many times in a single shopping trip that it's worth bothering with figuring this stuff out, and so the stores can trust that people will grab the package that says "VALUE!" in big letters on the front.

But even on items with clear labeling, there's a weird inconsistency in value between small and large packages. I think that retailers have done a ton of research, and know that people buying larger packages of X are price insensitive (because of the convenience of the large package, say), whereas purchasers of Y are more price sensitive, and prices and labels are adjusted accordingly. Where you draw the boundaries between deceptive and smart business practices, I'm not sure. The changing patterns of this do complicate my shopping trips, though.
posted by Forktine at 6:21 AM on September 29, 2010


Strangely, the 29 oz cans of diced tomatoes cost $.20 less per can than other non-seasoned tomatoes (crushed, puree, whole) in the same size can, at least at Publix.

wonder why?
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:35 AM on September 29, 2010


The local branch of Provigo likes to pull scams like labeling the big tins of coffee "Now $9.99!" as though that were a bargain when it was $7.99 last week. Not sure if that's a chain policy or just the local store though - they renovated a few years ago and the prices have been Fucky ever since.
posted by fleetmouse at 6:41 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


This happens in the US too. You have to do the math!
posted by Mister_A at 7:09 AM on September 29, 2010


Unit pricing isn't always clear - my maths are not great and I have to try and work it out. For someone who maybe left school without the pass-grade GCSE I did, it would be even harder - by the same token, sub-prime and high APR lending does really well. When I was 18 I listened to 'only £5 per month' rather than '29.9% APR'. MAny people in a similar way will buy the cheapest unit rather than the cheapest price-by-volume, and so it's easy to get misled.

Pricing is different for some items in supermarkets vs convenience formats of the same retailer.

Oh yes. I just went to buy some houmous - 15p more expensive at the 'local' version of the supermarket than in the regular one. And the BASTARDS have changed the recipe. I'll have to stick to the low-fat houmous now.

each of the big five UK supermarkets

Out of interest, who are you counting as the fifth player here? I've always found the idea of the big four strange, as Waitrose have barely any stores nationwide and until recently neither did Morrisons. MySupermarket, whose surveys we use at work, carries Tesco, Asda, Waitrose and Sainsbury's.

Get yourself to a Chinese Market or to Halal grocery store and you can buy your rice in bulk for around 1/10th the price.

This is a great idea if you live in an area where these are available (and you should do the same for soy sauce and tahini) except for one thing. Food moths. We had an infestation in an old flat and since then I am really reluctant to buy more rice and pasta than I can fit into lockable tupperware.
posted by mippy at 7:22 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Apparently my last post came with lots of free typos. I suppose that kept it vaguely on topic...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 7:29 AM on September 29, 2010


Someone did recently tell me they had two specials: a free half dozen donuts with purchase of a half dozen, or 1/2 off a dozen donuts.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:52 AM on September 29, 2010


Out of interest, who are you counting as the fifth player here

Co-op is the fifth player here.

The order in size is Tesco, a big jump down to Asda and Sainsbury, Morrison, Co-op and then Waitrose. M&S arguably makes up the big six, as its sales in food aren't that far off Waitrose.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:36 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is like the myht of the cave at emptor, when herecules was going to Emptor to buy some grapes but he could not find the market so he asked the old man in the town "where is the makret?" and the old man laughed and said, "it is in the cave but do not trust the merchants there" and hercules was like whatever old man i am hercules. so the market was in the cave and hje went into the cave. but the old man was right and the merchants there were bad, and lied about what they're grapes and hercules was buying grapes and the grapes were spoiled but the merchants said they were good grapes but they were not and the price was four gold but it was really eight so when hercules ran his credit card the grapes were bought for too much and the grapes were rotten by the time he got home and his wife said "hercules, why these grapes rotten" and hercules said "they are not rotten they are perfect the merchant man said that they were good and the price was a steal only five gold" and the wife looked at the receipt and said "but he charged you ten gold" ten gold hercules said "that is too much!" and he got so angry his eyes were red and he marched back to the cave at emptor and shouted s to the merchants in the market "you charged me too much" and he was smashing everything with his sword but until then zeus came down and said "no no no hercules! you must stop" and hercules said why not and Zeus said" because this is the cave at emptor, it is your fault you bought their goods, it is a crooked maket and you were told that by me" and hercules was shocked and said "you were the old man?" and zeus was the old man and then they left.

now whenever you buy something and it isn't any good it is like you were shopping at the cave at emptor.
posted by TwelveTwo at 9:56 AM on September 29, 2010 [33 favorites]


now whenever you buy something and it isn't any good it is like you were shopping at the cave at emptor.

I am torn between laughing and crying.
posted by GuyZero at 10:01 AM on September 29, 2010


it is a tragiedy tale
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:02 AM on September 29, 2010


Flagged as fantastic.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:13 AM on September 29, 2010


It's gotten to the point where I finally gave up and bought a calculator that lives in my purse, specifically for grocery trips. I may look like a dork when I whip out a calculator in the soup aisle, but at least I'm not paying twice as much ounce for ounce.

My irritation is with the pre-packaged bags of big-brand coffeehouse coffee (Peet's, Starbucks, Tullys, and SBC) sold in grocery stores. I continue to be surprised by how many people don't realize they are NOT a pound, but a mere 12 ounces.
posted by ErikaB at 11:02 AM on September 29, 2010


I've been using the "Cheapest" iPhone app to compare products at super markets. It's very revealing. Some places have small print on the price tags showing price/unit info but then they vary the units used between versions of the same product. Nice little trick.

The app I mentioned allows you input price and unit for items so it can get you past that little bit of trickery. I'm sure there's many similar apps for most mobile devices. Very useful.

My first time doing this immediately confirmed the theory that bigger isn't always cheaper. The giant pack of toilet paper appeared cheaper at first glance but after careful analysis of the complex web of roll count, sheet count and customer reward rebate relationships between pack sizes the stunning truth was revealed by SCIENCE: the cheapest of 4 available pack sizes was the 4-pack of single rolls. The most expensive was the 24-pack of double rolls.

I ended up getting the big pack anyway because I felt bad about the amount of plastic wrapping used for the 4-packs.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:27 AM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Ooh, that's a great price for twelve pounds of nutmeg!"
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:55 AM on September 29, 2010


"Ooh, that's a great price for twelve pounds of nutmeg!"

I stocked up on the 6-pack of Life-Sized Mrs. Butterworths.
posted by GuyZero at 12:03 PM on September 29, 2010


I was in a Superdrug queue yesterday with hairdye, waterproof mascara, shaving foam, toenail clippers and body lotion

mippy, how concerned should we be?

and why do you keep the basement door locked?
posted by sidereal at 1:20 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


My pet hate about those 2 for $x supermarket specials is when they're applied to completely inappropriate goods, like bread. Who the fuck wants two loaves of bread at once? Unless you have a family of twelve, the second loaf is already getting stale by the time you finish the first. You might think of putting the 2nd loaf into the freezer, but if you're like me your freezer is already full of leftovers or important things like pastizzi, handmade dumplings from the local chinese dumpling specialists, cuts of meat, or puff pastry, roti chanai & paratha. Fuck losing a huge part of your freezer to mankind's most basic foodstuff.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:53 PM on September 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Strangely, the 29 oz cans of diced tomatoes cost $.20 less per can than other non-seasoned tomatoes (crushed, puree, whole) in the same size can, at least at Publix.

wonder why?


Diced tomatoes would be the salvageable offcuts from otherwise bruised or rotten tomatoes. They're cheaper because the raw product was cheaper.

Always go for the whole peeled tomatoes, if you can find a reliable brand. That way, you know the tomatoes are good throughout. It's not as if dicing, pureeing or crushing them at home takes more than a few seconds.

(buying pureed or crushed is OK as a fallback option - unlike diced tomatoes, they'd be thrown into the industrial process whole, so they should be alright, although the crushing & pureeing can hide imperfections & allow subripe produce to be mixed in with ripe & overripe)
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:59 PM on September 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Don't worry, sidereal, I put the lotion in the box.
posted by mippy at 1:43 AM on September 30, 2010


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