Media releases
19 January 2023

Consumer NZ: So-called supermarket ‘specials’ uncovered

Shoppers from around the country have been sending Consumer NZ examples of dodgy or confusing supermarket specials, in response to its campaign which puts the spotlight on supermarket pricing and promotion strategies.

Among the examples shared was a ‘great price’ of $13.10 for dog food – listed next to its usual selling price of $12.50. Another was cheese on ‘special’ at $4.90 – with the usual selling price of $4.80 clearly visible. And another dog food, priced at $2.79 each, had an ‘extra low’ offer of two for $6.

“The supermarkets understand the persuasiveness of a ‘special’ or ‘everyday low’ price – recent Consumer NZ polling found only 5% of respondents don’t bother with specials,” said Gemma Rasmussen, Consumer’s head of communications and campaigns.

“It’s important the supermarkets are honest with shoppers about their pricing. Shoppers should be able to confidently compare products and know they are getting a good deal when purchasing a product on special.

“We received some concerning examples of misleading pricing and promotions, across all three of our big supermarket chains, and we think it’s unacceptable that these pricing errors seem to be happening on a regular basis.”

Earlier this week, Countdown admitted some of the specials advertised on its website were incorrect, leading to customers paying more than expected at the checkout.

“As well as the examples of dodgy specials, we have been contacted by some shoppers who regularly cross-check their receipts and frequently find they’ve been charged more than the advertised price,” Rasmussen said.

“We urge shoppers to check their receipts and let the supermarket know about any price discrepancies they find. Some supermarkets may refund the item in full if you are charged incorrectly.

“We’d also encourage them to report the pricing errors to Consumer NZ at playfair@consumer.org.nz,” she said.

Consumer’s Sentiment Tracker found cost-of-living concerns have risen sharply over the past year, with food pricing a key component. The cost of food now ranks second highest on a list of financial concerns, behind housing payments. A year ago, food ranked as the eighth-highest concern, trailing after other household outgoings.

As a part of its market study into the grocery sector, the Commerce Commission recommended supermarkets take responsibility to ensure their pricing and promotional practices are simple and easy to understand.

“At Consumer, we are not confident that supermarkets will step up and do the right thing,” Rasmussen said.

“There is a strong spotlight on the sector and yet pricing errors continue to happen, so we asked for shoppers to be our eyes on the ground. We’re not convinced the supermarkets are going to change their ways without pressure from the public.”

The watchdog is sharing tips to prevent New Zealanders being fleeced at the checkout.

  • Look at the unit pricing; this is the best way of breaking down the actual saving on offer.
  • Lift the ‘special’ ticket and see what the usual price is – it might not be much of a difference.
  • Look out for multibuys – does it really work out cheaper to buy more? “Some eagle-eyed shoppers found an ‘extra low’ offer of four packs of Pams Rice Crackers for $5, but given they’re only $1.09 each, there’s no point in reaching for four packs.”

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