Supermarkets are misleading customers with confusing pricing promotions that could be against the law, the competition watchdog has found.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said it had found “areas of poor practice that could confuse or mislead shoppers” and was taking measures to help make sure grocers complied with the rules.
It warned of enforcement action where there was evidence of breaches of consumer law.
The report today comes after a three-month probe sparked by a complaint from consumer group Which? that raised concerns about confusing and misleading promotions and a lack of easily comparable prices.
Nisha Arora, CMA senior director for the consumer sector, 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 per cent 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.”
The CMA found that the problems raised by the investigation were “not occurring in large numbers across the whole sector” and that retailers were taking compliance seriously.
It also said more could be done to reduce the complexity in the way individual items were priced.
It said it would work with businesses to cut out potentially misleading promotional practices such as “was/now” offers where a product is on sale at a discounted price for longer than the higher price applied.
The probe gathered information from retailers, manufacturers, consumers and advice bodies, as well as commissioning data and surveys on pricing practices in the industry, which was worth between £148 billion and £178bn in 2014.
A so-called “super-complaint” by Which? in April had raised concerns focusing on key issues of potentially misleading special offers, individual unit pricing, price-matching schemes and changing pack sizes.
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.