The competition watchdog’s latest jab at supermarket pricing tactics may have made headlines, but it hasn’t made much of an impact.
When the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched its investigation last year following a super-complaint from consumer group Which?, many onlookers claimed the ship it was attempting to board had already sailed.
The days of so-called then/now pricing, multi-buy deals and excessive couponing that they were looking into were already coming to an end as supermarket giants began to combat the rise of the discounters with a move to an everyday low price model.
Last July, the watchdog said it had uncovered “areas of poor practice that could confuse or mislead shoppers” and said it was working with supermarkets to change its pricing practices.
So what was new in this week’s announcement?
The report smacked of the CMA attempting to justify the time and money spent on its investigation – and simultaneously bidding to create headlines – by naming a specific retailer.
Asda was the one singled out, as I understand it for no reason other than for standing up to the CMA and suggesting that its views on high/low pricing might actually be bad for consumers after all, rather than good.
And frankly, I can see the grocer’s point.
Let’s say, for instance, that your favourite brand of bread was sold for £1.50 a loaf for a period of 28 days. Are customers really being “confused” or “misled” if it goes on sale at a lower price of £1 for a slightly longer 30-day spell?
The CMA had “particular engagement” with Asda over this “specific area of concern”, and the Walmart-owned grocer eventually fell in line with its rivals.
But the CMA’s investigation and findings would certainly not have kept Andy Clarke – or any of his opposite numbers – awake at night. They all have far, far bigger fish to fry.
As the grocers turn their attentions to more important matters, the CMA insisted its latest findings brought their investigation into supermarket pricing practices “to an end.”
I’m almost certainly not the only one thinking: ‘thank goodness for that’.