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6 April 2023

Consumer NZ: So-called supermarket ‘specials’ uncovered

Supermarket specials

We received over 300 examples of dodgy supermarket specials from eagle-eyed shoppers as part of our campaign to clean up supermarket pricing.

Among the examples were:

  • 78 ‘specials’ which, on closer inspection, were not an opportunity to save
  • 54 instances of customers being charged more than the shelf price
  • 18 dodgy multibuys - where the products would have been cheaper if bought individually.

“The volume and frequency of misleading pricing and promotions on our supermarket shelves is concerning,” said Jon Duffy, Consumer NZ’s chief executive.

In September, we asked for people's help to call out misleading pricing.

“Due to the volume of complaints, it took a while for our small team to work through and categorise them all,” said Duffy.

“We contacted the supermarket bosses to share a small sample of the complaints, and to raise our concerns that many of the examples we received risked breaching the Fair Trading Act.

“We asked the supermarkets to take steps to improve their pricing and promotional strategies,” he said.

Woolworths – the operator of Countdown has taken our concerns on board and said it is working to implement changes to improve its pricing practices.

“Woolworths also told us it has a clear and comprehensive refund policy. If a customer is charged more than the price on the shelf – the customer can ask for a full refund for the item – and keep it free of charge.”

Foodstuffs, the operator of New World and Pak’n’Save, largely rejected our concerns about its pricing practices.

Foodstuffs stated the number of complaints it received about pricing and ticketing practices were low compared to the number of transactions it processed. It acknowledged some ‘unintended consequences’ on ‘ticketing displays’ but rejected our concerns there are systemic problems with its pricing practices.

“The evidence we have collected suggests there are systemic issues, so we have written back to Foodstuffs, presenting a full summary of the complaints we received and asking it to take action to address these issues.”

We also asked Foodstuffs to mirror Countdown’s refund policy as a step to better address pricing errors when they occur.

“It’s our view, in the current cost-of-living crisis, pricing errors are putting further strain on shoppers.”

Our quarterly Sentiment Tracker surveying shows that cost-of-living concerns have risen sharply over the past year, with the cost of food central to these concerns. The cost of food now ranks second highest on a list of financial concerns, behind housing payments. A year and a half ago, food ranked as the eighth-highest concern, trailing behind other household outgoings.

“We know people are doing their best to reduce grocery costs by buying products they perceive to be on special. Shoppers are vulnerable if supermarket specials cannot be relied on as genuine.”

As 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.

Unfortunately, this recommendation has not been sufficient to convince supermarkets to step up and do the right thing.

“We continue to see widespread pricing issues across the duopoly. More needs to be done to protect consumers and our supermarket campaign will continue until we see evidence the sector has upped its game.

“We have put the supermarkets on notice and now we’re asking New Zealanders to be our eyes and ears again.

“Next time you’re in the supermarket look out for misleading pricing and promotions. Send us photos of any examples, including receipts – together we can continue to hold the supermarkets to account.

“Anything we receive will be added to our evidence and shared with the Commerce Commission for its consideration.”

Any examples of dodgy specials can be sent to [email protected]

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