Supermarket pricing system needs birthday boost

Survey suggests benefits of better unit pricing can go wider

CHOICE says a new survey suggests key improvements are needed to improve the legibility and prominence of unit pricing in Coles and Woolworths supermarkets to help more consumers better compare the costs of everyday groceries.

The national survey¹ was conducted by CHOICE with the Queensland Consumers Association (QCA) to mark the second anniversary of the scheme which began on December 1 2009 after almost 50 years of campaigning by consumer groups.

Unit prices allow shoppers to more easily compare prices and values between different package sizes, different brands and both packaged and unpackaged products, such as sliced ham, to potentially make large savings through changing their buying habits.  The unit price is shown on price labels and signs in addition to the selling price.

Both groups are concerned standards are not high enough and want retailers and the regulator the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to work harder at ensuring, as the Unit Pricing Code dictates, that all unit prices are both legible and prominent.

The national research showed around 60 percent of consumers, particularly the older and less well off, who can use unit prices to help control their shopping bill, would find them more helpful if the print size was bigger and the figures stood out more clearly. 

It also found almost 30% of shoppers are either unaware of unit prices, do not use them, or find them only slightly helpful. But almost half of these shoppers would find them more useful if there was more education about what unit prices are and how to use them. 

“Unit pricing can help consumers save significant amounts by shopping more smartly but despite most shoppers using the system and finding it very helpful there are some significant areas to work on,” said CHOICE director of campaigns Christopher Zinn.

QCA spokesperson Ian Jarratt who helped pioneer the system in Australia says the results are a clear signal to retailers and the ACCC to substantially improve how unit prices are displayed and give better information to help consumers use them.

Consumer groups have asked Coles and Woolworths to improve the legibility of their unit prices but so far they have refused.”

“There are significant groups, including the young, who need better information and about what unit prices are, and how they can be used to compare prices and values,” he said.

There is also great scope to make unit prices easier to use by having more consistent and logical units of measure.  For, example, at present flour must be unit priced per kg but bread and cakes mixes per 100g.  The Code should be reviewed and per kg and per litre should be used to unit price more products.

Read the full survey report from CHOICE and the Qld Consumers' Association and more more on the Unit Pricing issue on the Consumers' Federation of Australia (CFA) website. Christopher Zinn's blog also explains more on the Unit Pricing issue.

Media contacts:     

Christopher Zinn director campaigns CHOICE - 0425 296 442

Ian Jarratt Queensland Consumers Association - 0448 012 482

¹The online national survey was conducted Nov 16-20 2011 with 1,044 respondents by Essential Media Ltd. Those who shop at Coles/BiLo or Woolworths/Safeway were asked about their use and understanding of unit pricing so ALDI, IGA etc. are not included

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