Beat the supermarkets this Christmas

Supermarkets are experts when it comes to getting us to part with our hard-earned cash, and they pull out all the stops at Christmas time. But are the seasonal ‘essentials’ and special offers all they’re cracked up to be?

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As Christmas edges closer, beers, wines and spirits are often subject to discounts and paired up with multi-buy offers on snacks such as crisps and nuts – all designed to appeal to those who will be entertaining relatives or hosting parties over the coming weeks.

And we’re often taken in by these offers, despite the fact that there’s a bag of Bombay Mix sitting in the cupboard from last year and that bottle of Blue Nun has yet to see the light of day.

OFT clamps down on dubious deals

However, these offers are not always what they seem. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) recently launched an investigation into shoppers’ concerns that some supermarket deals were confusing and misleading.

The investigation found that supermarkets have been artificially inflating the price of certain products, only to lower it again after a few weeks and advertise it as a special discount.

It was also found that some ‘multi-buy’, ‘three-for-two’ and ‘buy-one-get-free’ offers actually worked out more expensive for shoppers than if they bought the items individually.

Although no supermarkets were found guilty of breaching any laws or carrying out misleading promotional practices, the investigation has led to eight supermarkets signing up to a new code of conduct to ensure that there can be no confusion over discounts and special offers.

The code of conduct stipulates that:

When using ‘internal reference’ pricing (such as 'was £3, now £2' or 'half-price'), the principles say the ‘prices should be presented as discounts for the same or less time than the product was initially sold at the higher price’.

Prices should also not be artificially inflated to make a later 'discount' appear more attractive.

The principles also say that pre-printed value claims on packs, for example 'bigger pack, better value', must be true. Where such claims are made, there should not be a cheaper way of buying the same volume of the product elsewhere in the same store. This applies even when there is a promotion on smaller packs of the same item.

Eight supermarkets have agreed to abide by the code of practice; Aldi, Co-operative, M&S, Morrissons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.

Asda is the only major supermarket that has failed to sign up to the code of conduct as it has taken issue with the proposal regarding one to one promotions.

For more information on the new OFT code of conduct, click here. Or you can see a review of the investigation and its findings here.

While this is certainly a step in the right direction, there is no defined date as to when the principles will come into force. In the meantime, shoppers will need to keep their wits about them to beat the supermarkets at their own game. Here are 10 ways how:

1. Don’t grab a bargain for the sake of it

Three-for-two or buy-one-get-one-free offers always look tempting but they can quickly become a false economy if you use them to buy things that you may not use. The same goes for items that have been reduced.
The best time to grab these offers is when they’re on products that you always buy and won’t quickly go out of date; tinned food, toiletries, toothpaste and toilet rolls for example.

2. Time your shopping trip

It’s never a good idea to go shopping when you’re hungry as you might fill your trolley with food you don’t need.
Try to make your trip around the time when fresh items are getting reduced – you can pick up some real bargains here and, even if you can’t use them all that night, you can freeze them for another time.

3. Try cheaper brands

It’s no longer a case of branded goods versus supermarket’s own as we now have a host of ‘luxury’, ‘finest’ or ‘premium’ brands that can encourage us to pay more than we have to.
So if you’re a fan of specific brands or ‘premium’ items, try downgrading to a cheaper alternative one week, and if you like it just as much, stick with it. 

4. Shop online

The layout of a supermarket is designed to make us spend money and shoppers are encouraged to walk down every aisle and make impulse purchases. So a great way to avoid this is to not visit the supermarket at all and do your shopping online instead – making sure, of course, that you stick to your list!

5. Leave the kids at home

This may sound a little harsh but simply taking the kids shopping with you can add to your shopping bill – if you don’t cave in to the constant questioning (“Can I have this?”) then they may surreptitiously place things in the trolley without you even realising. Plus it’s a lot quicker.

6. Compare supermarkets

Being a MoneySupermarket customer, you’ll already be used to comparing prices on car insurance and credit cards  and MySupermarket is a site that will compare the price of your weekly shop across a range of retailers. In addition, it will also let you know if you can get the same products for less in a multi-pack deal.

7. Use discount vouchers

We’re all used to using discount vouchers in restaurants and when making online purchases but there are also vouchers out there to save money on a range of groceries. You may even be able to use them on items that have already been discounted for even greater savings.

8. Use ‘lower price’ supermarkets

There was once a certain snobbery around shopping in places like Lidl and Aldi but not anymore as people begin to realise that they can get much of their shopping for less and, in fact, some of the products on offer are great quality.

9. Plan your meals

One of the easiest ways to waste money in a supermarket is to go in without having any idea what you’re going to buy for the week ahead – you can easily spend you weekly shopping money and not have a single meal to show for it.
So plan your meals for the week and only buy the items you need – it’s also a good idea to work in ingredients you already have to save money that way.

10. Shop on price, not on loyalty

Loyalty schemes such as Nectar and Clubcard may look like they’re giving you something for nothing but loyalty point schemes are factored into pricing policies. So shop where you think you’ll get the cheapest prices, not where you’ll pick up the most loyalty points.

What's the daftest supermarket offer you've ever seen? Let us know, here.

Follow Les on Twitter @LesRobertsMSM

Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct.

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