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4 November 2021

Consumer NZ questions ‘specials’ at big box retailers

A Consumer NZ survey into "specials" at big box retailers found customers shouldn’t assume they’re always getting a top bargain.

The consumer organisation’s online survey checked pricing at Briscoes, Farmers, Harvey Norman and Noel Leeming. It showed 27 out of 31 products were on sale at least four times but some products were on ‘special’ every week.

Six of the seven products tracked at Harvey Norman were promoted with deal-saving claims almost every week.

The Panasonic 32L Genius Inverter Microwave Oven went from a “Price Matched” $240 to a “Price Reduced” $313 the following week. It was then marked at $249 for four weeks, before rising to a “Price Matched” $298 for two weeks. Two weeks later, it was a “Huge Deal” $268.

A Harvey Norman spokesperson said it “doesn’t wish to make any comment” when Consumer NZ asked it to explain the huge variety of price promotion deals and what they meant.

All eight items tracked at Briscoes were regularly on special.

A Greenfirst 30/70 Duck Down Duvet Inner (queen size) was on special seven times. The “regular” price for the duvet was $329.99, but it was routinely sold at $165 or less. It was marked at its full price for a maximum of two weeks before being on "sale" again.

Briscoes said it had “a robust internal audit process” to ensure it complied with its Fair Trading Act obligations.

“So when is a 'special' really a special? If something’s on sale for longer than it is at its regular retail price, we'd argue that's the price of the item. Retailers continue to engage in misleading and confusing pricing strategies to entice customers to spend more," Consumer NZ head of content Caitlin Cherry said.

"Slogans like ‘price matched’ and ‘huge deal’ make things even more confusing. Consumers can’t tell what a true sale is. A sale must be a genuine opportunity for consumers to buy a product at a discounted price.”

Several retailers have been investigated by the Commerce Commission over their price promotions.

Strandbags is currently facing seven charges over price promotions. Between July 2018 and January 2020, it’s alleged it routinely advertised “sales” even though bags were being sold at their usual price or close to this price.

In October 2020, Pak’nSave Mangere was fined $78,000 for its misleading price claims. The commission found customers were routinely charged higher prices at the checkout than those displayed on shop shelves.

In 2017, Bike Barn was fined $800,000 for misleading “sale” prices.

Consumer NZ tips for buying at a big box retailer

  • Do your research before you buy.
  • If you’re looking for a particular product from a big box retailer, track its price for a few weeks before buying.
  • If it’s not on discount one week, odds are it will be shortly.

Our survey

Consumer NZ surveyed Briscoes, Farmers, Harvey Norman and Noel Leeming over a 13-week period. The prices and special pricing strategies of 31 products were tracked online over this duration. All four retailers were contacted to clarify their pricing strategies.

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