How supermarket loyalty cards and price match schemes stack up
Switch your bank, move your energy, get a new insurance quote – we’re constantly told loyalty doesn’t pay. But with the rise of budget chains Aldi and Lidl, and post-Brexit fears over the cost of imported ingredients, is the same true for supermarkets?
Moneywise checks out the different loyalty and price match schemes available from the big supermarkets to see if they really can bring down your grocery bill – or if you’re better off finding a cheaper alternative.
Regularly swiping away with a loyalty card at the till might feel like money for nothing, but are you really getting anything in return?
Firstly, some major supermarkets don’t have loyalty schemes full stop: Aldi, Asda, Lidl and Ocado all fall into this category.
Of those that do, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco let you rack up points to be redeemed later, while Marks and Spencer (M&S) Food and Waitrose offer discounts and freebies when you shop. Co-op, on the other hand, dishes out part of its annual profits to loyalty card holders – your share depends on how many points you’ve earned.
Of course, the supermarkets aren’t offering these kickbacks out of the goodness of their hearts. They are carefully analysing the data they receive every time you shop, building profiles of you and your shopping habits.
Whether you think this is a worthwhile exchange is up to you. But if you don’t mind, there’s no harm grabbing points when you shop – Tesco Clubcard seems to be the most generous scheme in terms of what points are worth.
However, it’s certainly not worth going out of your way just to collect some points; only use loyalty cards if you’re planning to do a shop anyway – you need to spend £1,000 at Morrisons, for example, before you can get your hands on a £5 voucher.
But you can play the schemes to your advantage a little; the free newspapers included in Waitrose’s loyalty card offering require a minimum spend, but the free hot drinks in store don’t; Tesco Clubcard points can often be doubled, tripled or even quadrupled in value when exchanged for rewards, such as cinema tickets, train discounts or magazine subscriptions, while occasional flash sales at Nectar, the scheme that Sainsbury’s belongs to, also allow you to increase the value of your points.
Plus, if you don’t use your card for a while, don’t be surprised to see money-off vouchers hitting your doormat to entice you back.
(Click on the table below to enlarge)
Price matching is different to loyalty schemes in that you get the difference back on your shop if it would have been cheaper elsewhere.
Both Morrisons and Sainsbury’s have axed their price matching schemes in the past 12 months in favour of ‘lower prices’, but Asda, Ocado, and Tesco still run theirs.
The common factor behind price matching is you need to have at least one ‘branded’ item in your shop, meaning you need to buy an item such as Heinz Baked Beans or Tropicana orange juice. The rest of your shop can then contain supermarket own label groceries, though you still need to have a minimum number of unique items.
If you do this, and your total shop would have been cheaper at one of the compared supermarkets, you’ll be entitled to a voucher for your next shop or instant money off your current shop.
However, supermarkets don’t always stock the same brands, or even the same size packs, which can mean your basket won’t always match. It’s also far more difficult to find comparable own brand items, meaning these prices often won’t be compared.
Other restrictions can centre on minimum requirements on the quantity of individual items you buy, the type of special offer involved, and even if the item is loose or packaged.
You’ll also usually find it is the total cost of the whole shop that’s compared, so say you buy something in Tesco, which is 50p less than in Sainsbury’s, and something else that’s 40p cheaper in Sainsbury’s, you’re cancelling out much of the price match.
If you are really keen to work the system in your favour, split your shopping into two baskets – one for special offers and one for standard prices – and pay for each separately to maximise your chances of getting money back.
The table above outlines how all of the major supermarket price match schemes work (click to enlarge).
My supermarket price match experience
On a recent shop in Tesco, I found that my basket was 82p cheaper than at Asda, £10.16 cheaper than at Sainsbury’s and £10.48 cheaper than at Morrisons so I wasn’t due any money back. But only 26 items of the 60 items I bought qualified for the brand match. No own brand items were compared, while only 22 items matched at all three supermarkets. In fact, most prices were incredibly similar elsewhere, with special offers representing the biggest differences.
Five easy ways to cut your supermarket spend
The best way to save at the supermarket isn’t to be overly fussed by any of these schemes. Use them if you’re shopping anyway, but don’t make a special trip. Instead a few simple changes to your shopping habits could drastically bring down the cost of the food in your trolley.
1. Write a shopping list
A list isn’t just the logical progression of having planned your shop. It will also help focus you as you walk the aisles, reducing the temptation of special offers you don’t really need and snacks you know you shouldn’t buy.
If you stick to the list, you won’t find yourself impulsively chomping on a chocolate bar or trying to find room in the cupboard for four bottles of half-priced coke. And don’t shop when you’re hungry, as you’ll be tempted to reach out for goods that aren’t on your list. That’s good for your waistline as well as your wallet.
2. Compare pack size, offers and prices
It’s a lot easier now to work out if the special offer or big ‘value’ pack is really cheaper than the smaller standard size. If you take a look at the shelf label you’ll see a price per unit – it could be weight, volume or quantity. Compare this price with different options for the same item and grab the cheapest one.
If you shop online, you can also use website MySupermarket.co.uk, which compares prices at all of the leading supermarkets. You can see where your digital basket would be cheaper before clicking through to complete your shop.
3. Change brands
Many own label items you buy are made in the same factories as branded – and more expensive – products. If you try swapping one or two items each time you shop, you’re sure to find at least some things where you don’t notice a difference in taste, but do find a difference in price.
Discounted supermarket chains, such as Lidl and Aldi, will help with this, or you could even go a step further – as many shoppers do – and try pound shops.
4. Buy reduced items
Supermarkets reduce prices on fresh items about to go past their sell-by date – you can freeze these foods to use later. You can get even better bargains if you go later in the day when prices are slashed further. Check the bargain shelves too, which can be hidden at the back of the store.
5. Get in and out quickly
Supermarkets are deliberately designed to confuse. They are laid out in such a way that you are forced to walk past aisles of expensive goods, tempting you to buy more on the way. They also regularly move products around to ensure you have to traipse up and down the aisles searching for the specific things you went in to buy.
If you can, try to leave your children at home when you visit the supermarket, because many of the displays are designed especially to titillate their tastes.
- We’d love to hear about how you reduce your weekly food bill. Email your tips and ideas to editor@Moneywise.co.uk or write to Moneywise, 1st Floor, Standon House, 21 Mansell Street, London E1 8AA.