Superdrug rapped over price comparison ads

Superdrug's claim that it sold 960 everyday health and beauty products more cheaply than rival chemist Boots was misleading, the advertising watchdog has ruled.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) found that not all 960 of the products in question were cheaper at Superdrug than Asda, that they were not all health and beauty products or 'everyday' objects, and that the pricing information used as the basis for the comparison was out of date.

Superdrug published two adverts in the national press which claimed that of 1,048 products it checked, 960 were cheaper at its shops than at Boots.

Boots complained about the accuracy of the pricing information used, and about the description of the goods as everyday health and beauty products, calling into question the price or description of 206 of the 960 products claimed to be cheaper at Superdrug.

"Boots also asserted that their own list of 'everyday health and beauty products', which they compared with Superdrug every week, contained 974 health and beauty lines for [price collection dates] 7 to 9 January 2008 of which only 175 appeared on Superdrug's list," said the ASA ruling. "Boots believed the list of products used to compare prices had been carefully selected by Superdrug in order to be able to make the best claim possible, rather than creating a list representing true 'everyday health and beauty' products."

Superdrug said that it had used a company, Compability, to collect pricing data, but that there were no receipts or pieces of documentary evidence to back up the price claims.

"Because they were unable to verify the prices on which the comparison was made, we concluded that Superdrug had not substantiated the claim '960 cheaper at Superdrug … 84 the same price … 4 cheaper at Boots'," said the ruling.

The ASA also found that the choice of products made by Superdrug was misleading. "We considered that a number of the products Superdrug had used in the comparison, such as snack food lines, film and battery products and magazines, were not 'health and beauty' products, and that some products, such as electrical beauty products and fragrances were unlikely to be viewed as 'everyday' products. Because Superdrug had not provided a rationale for their selection of 'everyday health and beauty products' to compare with Boots and because some products included in the comparison were unlikely to be considered as everyday health or beauty products by consumers, we concluded that the comparison was misleading," it said.

The adverts were also criticised by the ASA because of the three and four week lags between the gathering of the pricing data and the publishing of the two ads. "[Because of] the relative speed with which prices in the retail sector changed, the comparison was misleading because it was not based on the most up-to-date data," said the ASA.