Marks & Spencer and its new home delivery partner, Ocado, have been criticised for charging different prices for the same products in store and online.
Shoppers have highlighted a pricing lottery on identical goods ranging from eggs to lasagne, with differences of more than 40% between those sold in M&S shops and those sold through Ocado in some cases. Some items are more expensive in stores and some pricier at the online grocery retailer.
M&S items including monster cup cakes, white tissues and turkey breast steaks were all cheaper to buy through Ocado, while iceberg lettuce, free range eggs and 500g of penne pasta were all found to be cheaper in store.
One customer complained on social media: “@Ocado as a loyal customer for 5yrs I’m shocked to learn that you’re inflating @marksandspencer prices on your website. 4 M&S items on Ocado cost 50p more than M&S instore.”
Another responded: “I’ve noticed this too. They also don’t do offers, such as items that are usually £3 each, or 2 for £5 in store – they’re just £3 each on Ocado – it’s very annoying, and unfair for people who are shielding!”
A similar issue existed with Ocado’s former partner Waitrose – with some of the supermarket’s items priced differently in store to those online.
While M&S is co-owner of Ocado’s retail arm, the supermarket said the two businesses had to set prices separately under competition law.
But Martyn James, from the complaints specialist Resolver, said it was not clear why the two retailers were not using the same price comparison techniques as other supermarkets – such as Tesco’s pledge to match Aldi’s prices on certain goods – to ensure there was parity for M&S items in store and online.
He said: “It is difficult for consumers to know what the actual retail value is [of any item]. Manufacturers of every product should set a recommended retail value for it as we used to have in the past.”
Regulation on pricing needed to be stepped up as there was no single body which oversaw the issue and ensured fairness, James said. The shift to online shopping as lockdowns were imposed once again meant it would be harder to compare online and in-store prices for many.
“If we are going to be moved online we do need strict rules,” he said.
A spokesperson for Marks & Spencer said: “M&S and Ocado are two separate businesses, which means Ocado has to set its prices independently, with its own deals and offers. That’s why customers may occasionally see a small difference in pricing either way on a small number of products.”
Ocado said the “vast majority” of M&S products, of which it stocks about 5,000, were similarly priced on its website and in stores. “Ocado remains committed to providing the best value experience for its customers,” it added.
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