Friday, 4 November 2011

Sainsbury's Brand Match - Crikey it's Complicated

Casillero del Diabo Cabernet Sauvignon
Sainsbury's £5.79
Tesco £5.79
ASDA £5.00
But I 'saved'
£34.75 buying 24 bottles at Sainsbury's. How?

The UK's Supermarkets are all trying to claim they are the cheapest. They are fighting a price war, but most shoppers know it is a phony war. The supermarkets can't all be 'the cheapest'.

Tesco has 'Price Drop', ASDA guarantees it is 10% cheaper than it's rivals, Waitrose matches Tesco on leading branded products and Sainsbury's has launched 'Brand Match'.

Many people have noticed Tesco prices actually went up shortly before the 'Price Drop' launched, when they came back down again - but Tesco could justifiably claim a 'drop'. ASDA is adamant it is cheapest - and guarantees it with it's 10% cheaper online comparison. But ASDA makes it's customers work for any refund by laboriously entering their details on the store's website.

Now Sainsbury's believes it has come up with the most appealing promise because it says it makes all the comparisons with it's competitors prices for you instantly at the check-out with it's 'Brand Match'. If the brands you buy at Sainsbury's are more expensive than their rivals you receive a voucher. If it is cheaper they give you a print out showing how much you have saved.

To an economist the Sainsbury's offer is really price fixing. They are saying to their rivals - it doesn't matter how low you go we're going to match you. To shoppers it gives the impression of value (just like John Lewis's 'Never Knowingly Undersold' promise - which also has cunning exlusions). So it's no surprise that the Sainsbury's Brand Match promotion has loads of small print too.

But how do Sainsbury's calculate those 'savings' printed out on the slips?

At the danger of coming across like an alcoholic (Christmas is coming, hic) I bought 2 full cases of wine at Sainsbury's on Monday in their Wine Festival promotion. Buy 4 bottles save 10%, buy any 6 bottles save 25%. I like the Chillean Casillero del Diablo. It usually retails somewhere between £5 - £8. It is frequently on offer - but rarely under £5.

Sainsbury's non-discount price was £5.79. I already knew it was £5 in ASDA because I bought some last week. Tesco were selling at £5.79 too. But buy 24 bottles (2 full cases) and the Sainsbury Wine Festival promo knocks 25% off - so £4.34 is the final per bottle price.

The cashier handed me a coupon with my receipt and said 'look after this carefully, you've got a voucher for £34.75 off your next shop'.

'No' I replied, it says I have 'saved' £34.75 with your Brand Match.

Sainsbury's 'Brand Match' is so complicated even Sainsbury's staff don't understand it.

Here are a few of the small print terms and conditions.

1. You must spend at least £20.
2. It's only the big Sainsbury's (not the local ones) doing the 'Brand Match'.
3. You get a voucher off your next shop (not cash back) if a rival store is cheaper.
4. Morrison's is excluded from the comparison.
5. £10 is the maximum voucher value you can 'get back'.
6. No more that 10x credits on the same item. So purchases like mine (24 bottles) have an upper limit of credits.
7. Batteries, tobacco, ink cartridges, plastic kitchenware and some other peculiar exclusions apply.
8. Vouchers expire after 2 weeks.
9. If the systems fail they use data from previous days up to 3 days then abandon the scheme.
10. Blah, blah, blah. There are 40 different Q and A's on their website and they're not even the actual Terms and Conditions.

Still with me? Well done, I'd be surprised if many shoppers are.....

So how had I 'saved' £34.75 buying 24 bottles of wine at Sainsbury's when ASDA is actually cheaper?

To be fair to Sainsbury's you can phone their Customer Careline (free on 0800 63 62 62) and they will explain. So tonight I did. They track your receipt number in their system and retrieve all the information.

The friendly operator explains if I had bought 24 x £5 bottles of wine at ASDA it would cost £120.00. At Tesco it would cost £138.96 (although actually Tesco would give a 5% discount for buying more than 6 bottles of wine of £6.95 making the bill £132.01). The Sainsbury's price was £104.21.

So to calculate what I have 'saved' Sainsbury's takes the highest price I could have paid at a rival - Tesco £138.96 (even though they've got the tesco price after discounts wrong) and subtracts their price £104.21 to show a 'saving' of £34.75. Of course I know the real saving is the price I would have saved at it's cheapest rival - ASDA £120.00 (24 x 5) so the actual saving is £15.79.

The supermarkets make up their own rules to try and make sure their prices appear lowest. Sainsbury's really was the cheapest on this occasion - and I understood that - which is why I spent so absurdly.

So, I ask the telephone operator, if I had bought just 3 bottles at £5.79 (failing to qualify for the wine Festival multibuy) and tipped my basket over the £20 minimum spend with some other stuff (you must have one comparable brand in your basket) would Sainsbury's have given me 3x79p credit off my next shop (because ASDA at £5 is 79p cheaper per bottle)? 'Yes' she replied.

I'll never know, because I didn't put it to the test.

Please note the Sainsbury's Wine Festival promotion has now ended.

Update 3 October 2012 - The Advertising Standards Authority don't like the advertising for Sainsbury's Brand Match at all - and have banned the ads until they are corrected. Among their concerns the ASA said Sainsbury's claim you won't pay more for brands was wrong - because you would be charged more and would only get a money off coupon - so you would have to shop with Sainsbury's again (within 2 weeks) to get the money back. They also said Sainsbury's could not say 'save at Sainsbury's with Brand Match' - because all they were doing was matching their rivals prices (not bettering them). Well done to the member of the public who made that last complaint, even Tesco's legal team (who made a lengthy complaint too) seemed to miss that point.

ASA Summary: The ads must not appear again in their current form. We told Sainsbury's to ensure future ads did not imply consumers would not pay more, or would save money, if that was not the case. We also told them to ensure all significant conditions of promotions were made clear in future (see full adjudication here)