- a blog about food and value

The case against Tesco

Tesco has been fined €600 for charging more for goods at the tills than the price displayed at the shelves. But much like you or I would be oblivious to a one cent piece at the back of a drawer of odds and ends, Tesco won’t miss this €600.

Ireland’s largest retailer was convicted for breaches of the Consumer Protection Act 2007 after an action was taken by the National Consumer Agency. The fine is a pittance, but at least it’s an embarrassing slap on the wrist to Tesco, right?

Not really. Tesco have massive buying power in Ireland, and a massive marketing budget to boot. The Tesco behemoth will brush off this tiny embarrassing gnat, which only got decent coverage in The Irish Times and, and business as usual will resume.

In a dismissive statement, Tesco said: “It is our policy to have clear prices in place at all times. Across all our stores, we have 2.7 million price labels up every day; last year, the NCA found mistakes in 8 of these. This was as a result of human error during a time of major change in our stores. It should not have happened and we greatly regret it. Improvements have been made to our processes as a result.”

Except of course, it’s not an isolated incident. There’s a compelling book of evidence to show that Tesco – intentionally or not – regularly misleads its own customers:

  • Earlier this year, Tesco significantly increased the prices of well-known products just weeks into the new year before reducing them as part of their latest promotion. This also happened in 2009.
  • Cheapeats readers regularly complain that Tesco promotes a “special offer” on a product, when that product was recently sold at a cheaper price.
  • Pricing errors are common; you need to be constantly vigilant against Tesco.
  • Tesco have been reprimanded by the Advertising Standards Authority for displaying a special offer, not honouring it at the checkout, and then scribbling out the offer on the packs.
  • Tesco’s 2009 “Change for Good” plan, which promised to match prices in Northern Ireland, did nothing of the sort.
  • And let’s forget my personal favourite: when Tesco denied to the national media that it was putting up prices across the board following correspondence sent to this website.

The giant multinational made an estimated €200million in profit last year and, despite the slowdown, is on course to increase this figure to €285 million by 2015.

I’m under no illusions that this post will make an impact on Tesco’s lucrative bottom line. The Irish Times is one of the few mainstream publications to consistently highlight swizzery at Tesco, and yet the supermarket’s profits continue to rocket. Both shoppers and producers will continue to be fleeced by them.

I’m quite baffled as to why, despite repeated evidence that Tesco cannot be trusted and are bad value, people flock there. But I may as well be the Skibbereen Eagle wagging my finger at the Russian Tzar.

So, I’m really interested: do you shop in Tesco, and if so, why?


  1. I’m not proud of it, but I do sometimes. Why? They are open 24/7, have good parking, and have pretty much everything I need.

    I would love to give Super Valu or Aldi or the English Market in Cork all my business. But avoiding Tesco means I need to take multiple trips top get everything I need, plus get it all done by 8pm (or 5pm for the English market). I don’t always have time to do that.

  2. I should add a caveat here: I have shopped in Tesco. Usually if it’s incredibly nearby and convenient – and there are so many Tesco stores that it usually is convenient. Occasionally, they do run a tempting offer – they’re not PURE evil. It’s regularly and exclusive shopping in Tesco that I don’t really get. I know that comes across as judgemental, but I’m actually just curious…

  3. Corma, what about Dunnes? They are open until 9 in most areas and until 11pm in Bishopstown. I haven’t shopped in T*sco since their “change for good” campaign.

  4. Same thing for me: convenience. I am finding it hard to fit everything in my days, so if I haven’t made time to go shopping at the week-end, I do not want to waste an extra 20 minutes to go to Dunnes..

  5. I shop there occasionally – I hate it but sometimes it’s the most practical place to shop. I feel like I lose a little bit of my soul every time I go there though….

  6. Like Corma and Melanie, I still shop in Tesco for convenience. I sometimes go shopping at 10pm, and while I shop in Dunnes, Aldi and Lidl a fair bit, they don’t always have everything I need so it takes me several trips to different shops to get a full shopping done. Luckily, I do it on the bike so I don’t spend any petrol which would be counterproductive. Plus, I was home-bound for 3 weeks recently and ordered from Superquinn and Tesco, and let’s be fair, Superquinn had top notch items but couldn’t compete with Tesco in terms of prices. Dunnes doesn’t deliver, and SuperValu’s prices are not competitive enough. I just wish they got their prices right, though, because I always end up at the customer service waiting for a refund

  7. I live less than 5 mins walk from a tesco and only frequent it when I really have to. The 24 hour opening is very handy but than that its for specific offers and when we’ve run out of something. My best friend is a former Senior account Manager for a big Irish company and while she left her job almost 5 years ago she still won;t set foot in tesco after having to deal with them at a head office level

  8. I vowed never to return to Tesco after many a terrible experience, usually involving their subpar customer service. I fail to see how Aldi can run an efficient shop with five staff members, yet Tesco is always a discombobulated mess with staff members milling around chatting and ignoring customers.

    The straw that broke the camel’s back was when I found some bracelets that my daugters had been looking for for months. They were marked €1.50. I picked up two packs, but they wouldn’t scan. The cashier said she couldn’t sell them to me. I said that was ridiculous and surely she could ring them up as a miscellaneous item. She wouldn’t do anything. Normally I wouldn’t make a fuss but my kids had been wanting these for ages and they were with me and so excited we’d found them finally, so I asked to speak with a manager. After a full twenty five minutes, a manager showed up. She was extremely rude and condescending. We are talking about THREE EURO!!!! She refused to do anything and would not sell them. She spoke down to me and suggested I do my shopping elsewhere. I was livid. I meant to complain to HQ but a family emergency took precendent that week and other than refusing to shop at Tesco anymore I haven’t really thought about it until today.

    I think the thing that gets me the most with Tesco is their lousy customer service. Our local one seems to hire all Irish people for tills, but honestly I’d rather the Polish girls at the German supermarket. They are efficient and generally friendly, while the Irish ladies are more concerned about who’s who and chatting among themselves. It’s a disgrace. Never again.

  9. There are other reasons to avoid Tesco, this isn’t really on my list.

    I’ve had much worse pricing related issues in Superquinn, in the Ranelagh branch to be precise. I’ve wondered how I’ve never come across their practices as these issues seem to be scrutinized here pretty often.

    It’s happened to me quite a few times that an advertised price doesn’t come up at the till on their discount items. And even when I’ve mentioned it and got refunded the difference, it has left me wondering how the wrong price still comes up when the discount price has been advertised for many days already.

    Well I’m always conscious about these things due to being quite often broke, so thankfully the customer service has been good in these cases. But then there’s another thing that this Superquinn has been in fault of quite many times, and this one is a bit more odd. I’ve had at least on three different accounts a product to cost more at a till than it says on the aisles, but when going back to check the price, as it happens, the product is different than the one on display. For example, Quorn burgers are discounted, but instead there are Quorn quarterpounders in the shelves with the burgers nowhere to be seen. Once it was the Chicago Town / Goodfellas takeaway size frozen pizzas – picked one up where the discount was shown but it was the wrong one. The correct ones were at the other end of the freezer, but none were left! In both cases the staff just pointed it out that I had the wrong product, and that I can always check the EAN code to see if the product is the same! How they didn’t see the misleading placement of the products and price tags, I just don’t understand.

  10. Out of interest, what does T*sco stock that none of the other store have? I never thought of them as a niche supplier.

  11. I have a Love / Hate relationship with my local Tesco but last week I was with my husband and he picked up a nail clippers that was marked 2.29 on the shelve but when he went to the till to pay for it it wouldn’t scan, a manager was called over, she asked how much it was, he said “don’t know” (he didn’t) she said if “I put it in a miscellaneous 1 euro is that ok” – it was so he got it for 1 euro.

    So Deborah if they want to sell you an item, they can and for the sake of a few euro the people in your local tesco were very short sighted. As the manager who you were dealing with, she sounds like a right witch !

    plus one on the lousy customer service in tesco, sometimes it’s not worth complaining as it’ll only make you feel a lot worse

  12. Tesco used to refund the total cost of an item if you were overcharged but now they only give you “double the difference”when you’re overcharged. I used to get lots of items free so it paid to be vigiliant!!

  13. Only place near me that sells ripe avocados. 🙁

  14. Somethings I can only get in Tesco, like their own brand caramelised onion hoummous, or squashes without sweetners. I do it for the convenience mostly, the prices are generally comparable to superquinn/dunnes, and I just shop where ever is nearest when i’m looking for something.

    Having done the customer service thing at tesco in the past, it’s a pretty horrid job. Loads of complaints and personal attacks as if YOU PERSONALLY ruined their dinner/christmas/weekend. They’re not great, and middle management are a disaster (though i can say that for most supermarkets i’ve dealt with).

  15. Claire, I find these at Tesco, but nowhere else:
    LactoFree UHT milk that I can stock so I never run out of it (lactose intolerance in the family)
    Lactose free chocolate buttons
    Several kinds of hummus as stated above
    An aged Comte cheese that’s less than 25 euros per kilo
    Genesis breads (I know some Supervalu have them, but not the one nearest to me, which is still a good 15mn drive). Also LaBrea breads
    Belgian waffles
    Parmesan breadsticks
    Fairtrade chocolates in 10 varieties or so
    Vegetable crisps
    FoodDoctor products
    Heinz Fruits purees pouches, which are 2.29 euros compared to 3.49 for the Cow and Gate’s
    canned cherry tomatoes (Finest brand)
    A wider range of Quorn products than in Dunnes and SQ
    These are just a few I can think of. And I must admit that I find their own range much better than Dunnes (they will never beat Aldi’s, but I don’t have a local Aldi and they don’t have a very broad range)

  16. I also had a problem with a jar of coffee that wouldn’t scan. As that was what I had gone in to get in the first place I wasn’t leaving without it. It took 15 minutes to get it sorted and a queue was building up behind me.
    I rarely shop there and never buy meat there.

  17. Yes, I shop at Tesco (for what I can’t get at Aldi or the Dublin Meat Co.).

    Because (a) it consistently stocks the goods I want, which neither Dunnes nor Superquinn does; (b) it is easy to drop in to on my way home from work, which neither Dunnes nor Superquinn is; (c) it is by far the most physically attractive supermarket in my area (my local Dunnes is shabby and the Superquinn is shabby, cramped and badly laid out).

    I also must say that when I’ve encountered price issues (and I do note shelf prices and check my receipt), the Customer Service staff have invariably been thoroughly professional and have fixed the problem politely and efficiently.

  18. I’ve never had issues with Customer Services, I bought a coffee jar which when I got home I realised didn’t have its gold paper seal, and brought it back, no problem. I have also changed books and kids birthday toys I didn’t want.

    I go there after my shop in Aldi – as Aldi is just cheaper and that’s just the fact. But I go there for branded dairy products and Tesco version of Ready Brek (which is hit and miss in Aldi, sometimes there, sometimes not), Tesco Buttermilk, very good value, Tesco Hi Juice (sweetener free), Tesco Value Kitchen towels, Aldi ones are far too thin, and branded washing powders…Tesco Pull Ups, Tesco Bagels, Batchelors/Heinz Beans, coffee, Tesco Fairtrade leaf tea (very good!) I do a check online for all their half price/BOGOF offers and see which look good value or not.

  19. I shop there because it’s the only big supermarket that I can walk to. The only alternative is Spar, which is closer but is prohibitively expensive and doesn’t have the range necessary for a weekly shop. I don’t enjoy shopping at Tesco, but I imagine there are many people who use if for the same reason as I do.

  20. I do my main shop in Aldi and find that it has pretty much everything I need. I trust Aldi more, I would believe that the price on the shelf is the price scanned. I have NEVER left a Tesco shop without checking my receipt AND when it is wrong it is such a pain to deal with customer care on getting the refund. I almost lost the rag the other night when I bought 2 packs of Mr Kipling cakes both marked 2 for €3.50 but of course they didn’t scan right. According to the customer service agent they are indeed 2 for €3.50 but part of separate offers and shouldn’t have been on the same stand which I argued wasn’t my issue. So after much perseverance on my part she decided to give me the offer and refund double the difference. Then she proceeded to give me €1.20 back (double 60c difference) but really the difference was €1.20 therefore a €2.40 refund. I tried to explain this to her but it was like a mental block and she started getting annoyed. The queue was building and of course the other staff behind the desk did nothing to help out. I finally just gave up as I was so peed off and just wanted to get home. I use Tesco to pick up special offers, key products I like from there and some bargains in their clearance bread (can’t beat 40c ciabattas) but I would never do my full shop there. Like someone above said I feel like I lose a little bit of my soul every time I go there!

  21. Was in Dunnes over the weekend and it got me thinking: how can Dunnes survive the competition? They don’t put forward their “Irishness”, they haven’t won many Bord Bia awards unlike Aldi, they don’t do online shopping, they don’t sell anything that you can’t find anywhere else and their prices are not especially attractive. Does anyone else agree or do you find Dunnes is on par with the other big stores?

  22. All valid points there Nanazolie. Although if you loathe Tesco as much as I do, you might by default find yourself in Dunnes. Dunnes don’t seem to have any marketing or PR operation at all and are notorious among journalists for refusing to deal with the press. It’s an utterly bizarre stance for any organisation – particularly a commercial retail organisation – to take: paranoid, oversensitive, sad and silly. I think they forget that bloggers and journalists are simply channels of communication. But Dunnes don’t want to communicate with their customers, just pitch ads at them. Uninspiring and unimaginative.

  23. I don’t know what Dunnes you go to Nanazolie but my local Dunnes stocks loads of items that I wouldn’t trust from other retailers. Their “Simply Better” salmon fillets are gorgeous, their fruit and vegetables are always fresh and well stocked and their wine selection is the best in my area. The very best thing about shopping in Dunnes is the staff; they chat to you at the check out, they give you right of way when you’re in the aisles and don’t just barge through you and, wait for it, they pack your bags! Shopping in Dunnes Douglas Cork for me is a pleasure.