A young activist has reported Biedronka's multibuy discounts to the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection, and the UOKiK is currently investigating the matter.
Michał Tyrawski is a law student at the University of Gdańsk and an activist for The Young Left (Polish: Młoda Lewica) movement. He has been investigating the issue of unfair practices by shops that involve complicated discounts. Often, to get the promised price, customers must meet specific requirements, such as buying more than one product item, spending a certain amount, or having a specific app or loyalty card while making a purchase. Tyrawski took action to address this issue.
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Michal Tyrawski intervenes
On December 31st, 2023, Michal Tyrawski wrote about the red price tags for promotional products we often see in big stores in his post on Instagram. He believes this marketing technique is unfair because it takes advantage of people's instincts to buy a specific product when they see price tags suggesting discounts.
Michal also mentioned that these promotions often have many conditions that must be met before a customer can get the product at a lower price. Additionally, the regular price is usually written in small print at the bottom of the label, which can be challenging to spot quickly. Michal thinks this is a problem, especially for seniors and people with visual impairments.
Following his observations, Michal wrote a letter to the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (Polish: Urząd Ochrony Konkurencji i Konsumentów, UOKiK). He asked its representatives to take action to prevent these unfair practices. Michal also shared a copy of his letter on Instagram.
After seeing Michal's post, the editors of Vibez invited him for an interview on unfair multibuy discounts.
Weronika Paliczka: When did you first notice the problem of multibuy discounts?
Michal Tyrawski: Actually, ever since I moved out of my parents' house in October and started living on my own, I realised that the calculations I made before and during shopping did not match what I saw later on the receipts. As a full-time law student who has to make a living, every penny counts, so I felt cheated by the big supermarkets. I never expected to come into a shop and check what exactly is written in the small print on the price label; after all, I'm not signing a credit agreement. It's frustrating to feel like I'm not getting the value I deserve.
Do you plan to focus on the Biedronka supermarket chain or other shops as well?
I've shared my thoughts on Twitter regarding not only Biedronka but also other retail chains in Poland, including Żabka. It's disheartening to see unfair practices prevalent among most retail chains nationwide. While Biedronka's actions are particularly egregious, it's important to acknowledge that they are not alone in this practice.
Could you please clarify how long it took for UOKiK to react after your initial intervention?
I actually reported the matter to the UOKiK before New Year’s Eve, back in December. Thankfully, I received a response in the first week of January. Given my experience of working in administration and knowing the capacity of the UOKiK, I am pretty happy with the comprehensive response I received in such a short time.
What did you ask UOKiK while reporting the problem? What was their response?
I was concerned about whether some practices I experienced followed the Consumer Rights Act. When I reached out for help, I was informed that there were over a dozen ongoing legal proceedings regarding similar issues, some of which had been ongoing for several months. It seemed like my social media post helped raise awareness of the issue, as it reached almost 2 million Twitter and Instagram users.
What are your expected outcomes? What results do you anticipate from UOKiK and Biedronka?
Basically, the UOKiK has already confirmed that practices violate the EU Omnibus Directive. It's good to know that steps are being taken to address these issues. I hope these chain stores will be instructed accordingly and, if necessary, face fines of millions of zlotys to ensure they comply with the regulations.
What are the most shameful examples of multibuy discounts you can think of?
A few things caught my attention during my recent shopping experience. Firstly, promotional prices were displayed on the price scanner. Still, for that price to be applied at the cash register, certain conditions had to be met, such as having a specific app installed on your smartphone, spending at least 50PLN, or buying 3 of the same items. The regular price was written in small print in the bottom left-hand corner, which was easily missed.
Another thing that stood out to me was the marketing of alcohol during the New Year's Eve period. There were huge labels with promotional prices on almost every product, but the regular price was only visible if you squatted down and used a magnifying glass. I found this to be particularly bold.
UOKiK is investigating the Biedronka case
The Office of Competition and Consumer Protection is investigating several retail chains' actions, including Biedronka, Lidl, Żabka, Dino, Kaufland, Netto, Carrefour and Auchan. According to a statement obtained by PAP, UOKiK highlights the importance of a product's price for consumers, stating that it should be clear and not misleading. Retail chains that do not comply with the rules and regulations may face fines of up to PLN 2 million.
"The price of a single item is important for the consumer," says UOKiK. "It must not be misleading; it must be clear to the consumer. If we believe this is not the case, we can report directly to UOKiK, the consumer ombudsman or the Trade Inspection."
The Vibez editorial team has requested a comment from the Biedronka chain regarding the case.