Still more work to do on unit pricing11 Dec 12 10:21AM EST |
Since late 2009 large supermarkets have had to show the unit price (price per unit of measure) of packaged grocery items on shelf labels so that shoppers can easily compare prices and values.
This was a major for victory for consumers that took nearly 50 years to achieve.
However the current system still contains many flaws, as not all unit prices are easy for shoppers to notice, read and use. Due to insufficient consumer education, many consumers are not aware, or not taking full advantage of the many ways in which unit prices can be used to get better value and save time.
Best practice unit pricing can help shoppers to knock hundreds of dollars off annual grocery bills.
The main challenges for the consumer movement now are to ensure that any unit prices are easy for consumers to notice, read and use (best practice), and as many grocery shoppers as possible know about unit prices and how they can be used to make more informed choices.
Even though there is a compulsory Code of Conduct supervised by the ACCC, much of the unit pricing provided in Australia is not best practice for consumers. Mainly due to problems with how unit prices are displayed and the units of measure used to show unit prices (for example per kg/100g/litre/100mL/each).
The Code says that that unit prices must be displayed prominently and legibly but the ACCC has not provided enough detail about what this actually means.
As a result, supermarkets always display unit prices much less prominently and legibly than selling prices. This results in the unit price on many labels and signs being difficult to find and read. Some unit prices are practically unreadable due to small print or obscured labelling
Nearly 70% of 1000 shoppers surveyed last year said unit prices would be more helpful if the print stood out more or was bigger. Therefore, adopting easier-to-read labelling would deliver immediate benefits to consumers.
The location of the unit price on price labels and signs varies between supermarkets. Many unit prices are well away from the selling price which reduces consumer awareness and use. If unit prices were consistently below or next to the selling price, they would be much more useful for consumers.
Different products of the same type can often use more than one unit of measure. For example some packaged cheese unit priced per kg and some per 100g. The Code requires the use of only one unit of measure for ALL packages of a product type. In some cases, products may not show any unit prices at all.
If the Code’s standard units of measure for products sold by weight or volume were per kg and per litre rather than per 100g and per 100mL (with smaller units of measure to be used for some products such as herbs and spices), this would be better for consumers.
Even if the standard units were not changed, it would be best practice for consumers, and easier for supermarkets, if many more products were unit priced per kg not per 100g, for example cake and bread mixes, rice, and sugar.
Studies and consumer feedback show that many consumers make some use of unit pricing. However much can still be done to increase consumer knowledge and use of unit pricing.
For example, unit prices can be used to compare many values, not just of package sizes within and between brands. However consumers must remember that:
- Unit prices can vary enormously and change, so they should be checked regularly. For example larger packs are generally cheapest per unit of measure but smaller packs can sometimes be cheaper than large ones, the unit price of products sold loose from bulk is often but not always lower than when the product is packaged, and the unit price of frozen products is often but not always cheaper than fresh.
- It may be worth paying a higher unit price to get the brand, size, type of packaging, etc. that best meets your needs.
It’s all about looking for, and comparing, unit prices and including them in your decision making, just as most people do when buying fresh meat, fish/ seafood, fruit and vegetables, etc. which have always been, and still are, unit priced per kg.
If you are concerned about any unit prices that are not sufficiently legible or prominent, or about any other aspects of unit pricing, phone the ACCC’s the Unit Pricing Hotline 1300 746 245.
Let us know about any problems you have experienced with unit prices, how you use unit prices to compare values, and what benefits you have obtained.