Supermarket complaints: when the price isn’t right
Consumers call out supermarkets for overcharging.
Discounts are great, right? That’s what supermarkets would have us believe. The stores are decked out in “special” signs with bargains to be had in almost every aisle. Stock up and save!
But shoppers are crying foul.
Pak’nSave customer Paul Bensemann was stung by the store three times in one month. The supermarket charged him $6.49 for coffee marked on “special” at $5.99 and $4.50 for tabbouleh on “special” for 99¢. Then there was the bottle of wine: on “special” for $11.79, it scanned at the checkout for $14.79.
Paul was refunded when he complained but is “frustrated” at having to check every price on his Pak’nSave dockets. “It seems a systemic issue. Most people just don’t have the patience to question prices nor the time for the long waits while [the store] sorts it out,” he said.
Over the past few months, we’ve fielded complaints from other consumers who’ve picked up a product on “special” only to find they’ve been charged the so-called usual price at the checkout. Many of these eagle-eyed shoppers only noticed they’d been overcharged after they checked their receipt.
Extra low: 6 for $7
The “special” sign at a Pak’nSave store in Hamilton boasted shoppers could buy six cans of Sealord Tuna for $7. Sharon Dimond stocked up. But when she got to the checkout, she was charged $9.05 for her tuna tins.
While an extra $2.05 might not seem much, Sharon points out there may have been plenty of others attracted by the special who were overcharged. Sharon got a refund when she complained but said it wasn’t the first time she’s been billed more than the advertised price.
Extra low: $3.69
Kim Santer thought he was bagging a bargain at Napier Pak’nSave when he added a dozen Farmer Brown eggs to his trolley. According to the shelf price, the eggs were an “extra low $3.69”. However, when Kim checked his receipt at home, he found he’d been charged $4.69.
Kim emailed the supermarket but didn’t get a reply. “This is the bit that causes most annoyance – mistakes do happen but then for a retailer to just ignore the issue would suggest a particularly poor attitude to customer concerns and would heighten our suspicion that the retailer has a lax attitude to ensuring pricing is correct.”
When Kim went to the store the following week, he asked for a refund for his over-priced eggs. “At the service counter, I was behind a gentleman who had been overcharged in excess of $10 for an item and he strongly made the point that ‘it is happening all too often’.” Another customer behind him was also queuing for a refund.
“I was reimbursed but didn’t feel any more confident that the issue won’t arise again,” Kim said.
Multibuy: 2 for $9
Pak’nSave Petone offered customers an “extra low” multibuy deal: get two packs of Farrah’s tortillas for $9. However, customer Michael quickly realised this wasn’t such a great deal, given the usual price for one packet was $4.29 – by our calculations, that’s two packs for $8.58. Forget the special, gracias.
The frozen food aisle in New World Halswell had prominent “saver” signs, enticing customers to take advantage of a $6.29 ice cream special. The signs were above a freezer of Tip Top ice cream. Shopper Stephanie Reid picked up a tub, only to be charged $8.49 at the checkout.
As Stephanie found, shoppers had to read the signs closely to find the deal was for a different brand of ice cream altogether – Much Moore Ice Cream – which was nowhere to be seen.
Exclusive club deal
Jo O’Reilly popped into New World to buy a bottle of wine. She saw Selaks Reserve advertised as an “Exclusive club deal”: $11.99 a bottle. But when Jo peeked under the “club deal” sign, she saw the normal price was also $11.99. Not such a great deal after all and a “bit dishonest”, Jo said.
At New World in Stoke, customer Alex saw a prominent “Everyday Value” label for Home St Keto Bread: $10.99 a loaf. But a much smaller label on the shelf gave the price at $10.89. When she pointed out the different labels to staff, they removed the one with the special price and told her it was an old tag, Alex said.
“Ten cents isn’t a big deal but the price tag led me to believe the already expensive bread was on sale, not more expensive than usual!”
Great price: $2.70
Right below the So Good almond milk, the $2.70 “great price” at Countdown was hard to miss. But as Karin Menon discovered, you almost needed to get your specs out to read this price was for an entirely different brand of milk. The price for the So Good? A not-so great $4.
Karin said it’s not a one-off. She estimates she’s been overcharged as much as four out of every 10 times she goes to the supermarket: “I eventually have learnt to check my receipt every single time I go grocery shopping.”
Another “great price”
Countdown shopper Wayne Fox saw a “great price” label for Well Naturally chocolate: a 90g bar for $5.50. But he discovered the “great price” label on the shelf was hiding another sticker that revealed the choc had previously been sold for $5. Turned out the “great price” was only a great price for the store, Wayne quipped.
Special $4 each
Next to the 1kg packs of McCain Mint Peas at Countdown, shopper Lyall Duffus saw “special” stickers advertising a price of $4. But you had to look at the label closely to discover the special was for McCain Baby Mint Peas – not the regular ones, which were $4.55.
Supermarkets were keen to reassure us they’re doing their best.
A Countdown spokesperson said the supermarket has “team members in every store dedicated to price integrity but occasionally mistakes do happen”. The store said it had fixed the pricing “mistakes” we raised with it about So Good almond milk, Well Naturally chocolate and McCain peas.
“It's not our intention to mislead customers in any way … It's our policy across all our stores that if we are alerted to an incorrect price charged to a customer, we will refund the price paid and the customer can keep the product free of charge,” the spokesperson said.
Antoinette Laird, head of corporate affairs for Foodstuffs (owner of the New World and Pak’nSave brands), said it takes “pricing integrity very seriously”.
“We are aware of and committed to honouring our legal obligations on savings claims … If a customer ever has a concern about what they have been charged, we advise them to please notify a team member at the store where they made their original purchase so the team can look into it and rectify if needed,” Foodstuffs’ Antoinette Laird said.
Convinced consumers are getting a fair deal? Neither are we.
The Commerce Commission’s draft report on the supermarket industry rightly criticises the stores for their pricing and promotional practices.
It’s recommended mandatory unit pricing be introduced so it’s easier for shoppers to compare products by price.
Prosecutions for some pricing practices may be in the wings. The commission said complaints received during its investigation are being assessed for potential Fair Trading Act breaches.
Food price rises
Think you’re paying more at the checkout than you were a year ago? You’re right.
In the 12 months to June, food prices rose 1.6 percent. There were bigger hikes for some products with fruit and vege up 5.7 percent.
Compared with June 2020, we’re also paying more for:
- eggs, up 4.5 percent to $4.66 a dozen
- a six pack of yoghurt now $5.29, up 9.2 percent
- breakfast cereals, up 3.1 percent.
Over the past three years, food prices have risen 6.5 percent. Statistics NZ data show the biggest increases between May 2018 and May 2021 were:
- restaurant meals and ready-to-eat food (up 12 percent)
- fruit and vegetables (up 6.3 percent)
- meat, poultry, and fish (up 5.9 percent)
- grocery food (up 4.5 percent)
- non-alcoholic beverages (up 1.8 percent).