Are supermarkets’ online pricing practices honest?

All supermarkets are expected to be honest in their pricing, but it appears some are more honest than others.

According to consumer watchdog CHOICE, some supermarkets are fudging the figures when it comes to unit pricing.

Unit pricing is that little figure at the bottom of the shelf tag that shows what the product costs per unit, whether that be weight, volume, area, or number of items. It’s a ‘second price’ if you like, and it’s a handy tool to work out how much you are paying for comparison purposes.

But it’s not something the supermarkets do as a favour; it is a legislated requirement.

It was introduced as part of the Competition and Consumer Act of 2010 and covers almost everything sold in a regular supermarket apart from many non-edible items.

Read: Supermarket checkout pain may last for years, suppliers warn

Since it has been in operation for more than 10 years, you would expect supermarkets would be finally getting it right, but CHOICE finds otherwise.

You are okay if you are shopping at the bricks and mortar store, it’s online where it gets a bit dicey.

And that’s a lot of us. According to data analysts IBISworld, Australians will spend $9.9 billion on online groceries this year.

CHOICE claims Coles and Woolworths were doing well on their online unit pricing displays, but the smaller chains were, well … dragging the chain.

It says IGA is making regular errors with unit pricing. CHOICE found the group was not displaying items according to the Retail Grocery Industry (Unit Pricing) Code of Conduct, which is less of a ‘code’ and in reality, is a legally binding document.

Now, try to follow me here.

The legislation set down some strict rules about unit pricing.

Read: Switching supermarkets could save you $2500 a year

Beverage unit pricing must be displayed as the price per litre, but for some reason IGA is displaying a lot of its products at a price per 100ml.

We hope it just got lost in the translation by some work experience person tasked with entering the data online, but since pricing is one of the keystones of supermarket operations, that’s probably not the case.

And the inconsistencies for IGA go on. CHOICE found wheat flour unit pricing was priced correctly on a per kilogram basis but any other flours, such as gluten-free, were not and many sale-item unit pricings were not clear if they were for the sale price or the standard price.

“IGA also sometimes didn’t provide unit pricing for easily-divisible weights, such as a 2kg or 5kg pack of potatoes,” the CHOICE report stated.

Foodworks did a little better and even displayed products from lowest to highest price, a practice recommended, but not enforced, by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

Read: Data shows which foods are soaring in price

However, CHOICE also found that occasionally Foodworks did include the unit price as part of the sale price, not in addition to the price.

CHOICE also had issues with its typography; sometimes the website used ‘l’ for litres instead of ‘L’ and the unit pricing colours did not stand out, but overall, a good review.

If you shop online at Harris Farms, well done you! They came out on top for online pricing. CHOICE had some problems with the filters and typography, but nothing that would draw ACCC attention.

If you have found a problem with online pricing, CHOICE recommends contacting the retailer first and if you find no joy there, make a complaint at the ACCC website. The ACCC probably won’t take action for one complaint, but if it gets enough bad reviews for one business, it may investigate.

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Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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