Supermarket pricing has been deemed potentially confusing by the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) following a formal complaint by consumer rights campaigner Which?.

The CMA stated it had found evidence that some supermarket pricing practices had the potential to mislead and to confuse consumers, but this was not a widespread occurrence. 

It said it would take further action with businesses where this was the case.

Despite evidence of misleading pricing, it said retailers are generally taking compliance seriously and had a ‘good awareness’ of consumer law.

In its so-called super-complaint, Which? said that it had found hundreds of examples of “misleading and confusing pricing tactics”.

Key concerns aired by the CMA were that ‘was/now’ promotions were in some cases breaking consumer law, as the ‘now’ price had exceeded the time of the ‘was’ price, and that unit pricing, where product price is labelled per gramme or litre, was sometimes not clear.

As part of its investigation, the CMA examined the pricing on 150,000 products. Of those, it said that 800 had potentially misleading prices. It said it would now be talking to businesses in more detail about the problems, and issuing fines where necessary.

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.

“Given the findings, we now expect to see urgent enforcement action from the CMA. The government must also quickly strengthen the rules so that retailers have no more excuses.

“As a result of our super-complaint, if all the changes are implemented widely, this will be good for consumers, competition and, ultimately, the economy.”

The Which? initial super-complaint said it had identified a range of pricing tactics in supermarkets, such as multi-buys, smaller products and exaggerated discounts, which it claimed confused consumers and left them out of pocket.