When is an Offer Not an Offer?

Q. Shoppers are always pleased to see “offers” advertised in their local supermarket, with “3 for the price of 2” or “buy one get one half price” being good examples of discounts that are commonly touted.  However, my experience of attempting to avail of such discounts in my large local supermarket has been poor, and serves to demonstrate that advertising such offers and actually applying the advertised discount at the cash register are very different matters.
On many occasions I have discovered that a discount that should have been applied to my bill is nowhere to be seen on the receipt, and the goods on offer have been charged at full price.  From talking to other customers of that supermarket, this would appear to be a common experience and there is a general feeling of frustration that nothing appears to be done to improve matters in this regard.  It is said that it is a system issue with the tills.
Any retailer can make a genuine pricing mistake, but when this same issue arises time and time again in the same store, it begs the question, ‘Is there any legal obligation on the supermarket in question to ensure such obvious and frequent mistakes don’t happen?’. As it stands, there would appear to be no incentive (e.g. compensation/penalty) for this store to implement any improvements to ensure goods are being sold at the advertised price. What recourse does a consumer have in this situation?
A. There is indeed a legal obligation on the supermarket to advertise offers such as these in an honest, accurate and clear manner. This ensures that the consumer makes informed choices when spending his hard earned cash.
Whether your supermarket has breached its legal obligation in these instances depends on the manner in which it deals with your complaint following your discovery that you have been charged the full price for the goods on “special offer”.
If the supermarket refuses to refund you the price of the “free” item, or if the offer of which you had intended to avail has expired, the supermarket is, indeed, in breach of Irish consumer protection law.
If the supermarket refunds you the price of the “free” item -however inconvenient and frustrating – it has not breached your rights as a consumer.  However, some form of a goodwill gesture on the part of the store would be helpful and provide an incentive for the store to get its systems properly programmed, but there is nothing to force the store to do more than refund the amount overcharged.
Though it may seem to be stating the obvious, checking your receipt at the time of purchase is  important and the discrepancy should be brought to the immediate attention of the cashier and management.
It is also useful to write a formal letter of complaint to the management of the supermarket stating your annoyance and disappointment with its customer service policy.
You could also complain to the National Consumer Agency and have it investigate to ensure the supermarket’s advertising and treatment of its customers in these “offers” is in compliance with Irish consumer protection law.
Your ultimate course of action, if this continues, is to “vote with your feet” and take your custom to a retailer which does honour its promises to its customers!!