Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
A ‘basket of goods’ comparison involves a retailer comparing a number of items that a consumer might buy in a shopping visit to their store against a similar basket of goods bought at a rival store. Generally saving claims are based on the specific combination of products in the ad, although sometimes they may imply that consumers can save all the time. Ads which directly compare an individual product which is sold for a different price at different retailers is unlikely to be considered a basket of goods comparison. The ASA has considered that a shopping basket survey, which would always be restricted to a selection of products, is a valid means of comparing the price performance of retailers.
Marketers comparing an overall price of a basket of goods should compare a truly representative selection of goods and not skew the comparison to give themselves an artificial advantage. The products in a basket should be products typically bought by shoppers in a combination that reflects customers' normal shopping habits.
Marketers are entitled to compare own brand products with branded products, provided this is clear in the ad and the comparison is fair and representative. Marketers should not skew a comparison by comparing their cheaper own brand products with a selection of competitor products which includes an untypically high number of high-priced branded products. In 2016, the ASA upheld a complaint about an ad that claimed customers could save on a big weekly shop. In each of the three comparator shops the processed and non-fresh products were branded products, and only the fresh products were own-brand, along with a small number of other products. Because the ASA had not been provided with any evidence from the advertiser that the comparison included a fair and truly representative selection of goods typically purchased, and because they considered that it was unlikely that price conscious consumers to whom the ads were targeted would purchase such a large proportion of branded goods when own-brand goods were typically cheaper and available, the comparison was considered misleading (Aldi Ltd 29 June 2016).
Even if a basket of goods comparison includes just one significantly higher priced branded product, this is likely to be considered misleading if the saving made on that individual product constitutes a significant amount of the overall saving claimed. An ad which compared Aldi and Tesco products which were typically bought around Christmas was considered misleading by the ASA. The basket included a Moet bottle of champagne priced at £28 which was compared with an own brand champagne priced at £11.49, and this difference constituted 57% of the overall saving claimed. The ASA considered that consumers would not expect the price difference between the two baskets to derive predominantly from the comparison between a single pair of products. The ASA also considered that the ad was targeted at price conscious consumers, and given that there were other lower- and mid-range priced champagnes available at Tesco (both branded and unbranded), which would be considered by price conscious consumers to be more comparable with the Aldi product, the inclusion of the Moët product in the basket of goods skewed the comparison and was likely to mislead (Aldi Stores Ltd, 17 July 2019).
A shopping basket featuring some own-brand goods may be compared with a basket containing only branded goods as long as the ad makes this clear and the comparison is fair and representative.
Ads may compare promotional and non-promotional prices in an ad however this must be made explicitly clear. Ads should not state that consumers can make a particular saving based on the full price of a product or group of products if that product is available at a promotional price at the time the ad is seen, unless the ad makes it explicitly clear that that is the case. In 2019, the ASA upheld a complaint about an ad for Lidl which stated “prices crunched all year round”, and compared the price of four branded food products above the claims “£11.50 at Morrison’s and “£9.77 at Lidl” because at the time the ad appeared one of the products was on sale at Morrison’s, meaning the saving was not as much as stated in the ad, and this was not made clear in the ad (Lidl UK GmbH, 08 May 2019). The ASA has criticised many other marketers for not making clear that they have used promotional prices in their comparison (Boots UK Ltd, 22 October 2008). The ASA considered that one marketer’s footnote “Includes Tesco products on promotion”, did not negate the misleading impression given by the headline (Tesco Stores Ltd, 20 August 2008).
Two ads which featured four individuals and stated that they had saved against their usual weekly shops with Aldi were considered misleading, because they did not make the basis of the comparison clear. The ads included small text which stated "84 out of 98 people saved”, and the ASA considered that consumers would therefore understand that 98 people had participated in the eight-week challenge, when in fact only four people had completed the eight week challenge, and the remaining people had only participated in a later, two week survey (Aldi Stores Ltd 31 December 2014).
Basket of Goods comparisons include a selection of specific products. Marketers must take care to ensure that their ads do not imply that customers can save all the time, on all products, or against all competitors, if this is not the case.
Marketers must ensure that an ad does not imply that savings can be made all the time, if they only relate to a specific combination of products. An ad for Aldi made a basket of goods comparison with a saving of 45% and was headed “swap to Aldi and save”, and included the Aldi slogan “everyday amazing”. The ASA considered that consumers would understand from the ad that they could save 45% everyday, and that the ad did not make it clear that this saving was only based on the specific selection of goods shown in the ad (Aldi Stores Ltd, 17 July 2019).
Similarly, ads should not imply that a saving can be made on all products sold, if the marketer only has evidence to demonstrate that specific products are cheaper. Savings claims such as ''We're cheaper than Y'', “Why pay more at Y” or similar, can imply that the marketer’s prices are on average lower than their competitors across their product range; marketers should take care to ensure that such claims are supported by comprehensive comparative evidence or that the meaning of their claim is stated clearly (Tesco Stores Ltd, 20 August 2008 and ASDA Stores Ltd, 14 March 2007).
Ads should make it clear if the comparison is made with specific competitors, and should not make any claims which could be interpreted as an absolute comparison against the whole market, e.g., “we have the cheapest prices”. An ad for Tesco which compared the price of a Christmas shop at 5 supermarkets was considered misleading because, whilst the qualifying text in the ad stated which supermarkets were included in the comparison, the headline claim stated “no one is cheaper for your big Christmas shop”, which was likely to be considered an absolute comparison with the entire market (Tesco Stores Ltd, 21 May 2014).
Unless they operate a national pricing policy and prices are the same for everyone irrespective of local or regional competitor activity, marketers should state where and when surveys featured in their marketing communications were carried out (ASDA Stores Ltd, 14 January 2009).
If there is any material information which is likely to effect a consumers understanding of the price claims made in the ad, these should be made clear.
A Tesco ad was considered under multiple points by the ASA. The ASA considered that the ad made it clear that the comparison was between entry tier exclusive brands at Tesco and entry tier exclusive brands at Aldi and Lidl, as opposed to typical shops at each retailer, and were satisfied that Tesco had included in the comparison products that would provide for a fair and representative comparison of the price of products in those entry tier ranges. However, the ad was still considered misleading by the ASA because there were limitations on the availability of the product range and the ads did not make these limitations clear: None of the products from the ‘Exclusively At Tesco” range were available in Tesco Express or Metro stores, the specific combination of products upon which the savings were calculated were not available in Northern Ireland, and they were only available in fewer than half of their larger stores across the UK (Tesco Stores Ltd t/a Tesco, 18 September 2019).
As with all comparative claims, marketers must hold evidence to demonstrate that their claims are accurate.
When making a price comparison, marketers should take account of their competitors’ pricing policy (especially their response to price-led advertising), the speed with which changes in price are likely to occur and the shelf-life of the media they choose to use. Marketers should not state or imply that prices, and therefore savings, are valid for longer than they are.
Comparisons with named or identifiable competitors should be verifiable. In order for a comparison to be verifiable, ads should state or signpost to the data on which the comparison is based so that readers of the ad can verify the comparison. A complaint against an ad for the Morrisons price match scheme was upheld because the ad did not include sufficient information to verify the comparison, and should have included a signpost to the methodology which would enable consumers to ascertain readily the basis on which Morrisons made their comparison. In this case the advertiser questioned whether their ads were subject to the verifiability requirement, because they did not contain a price comparison but instead referred to their price match scheme, however the ASA ruled that because the competitors were identifiable the verifiability requirement applied (Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc t/a Morrisons, 26 August 2015). (See also Aldi Stores Ltd, 31 December 2014).