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Government watchdog warns retailers over grocery price errors

Government watchdog warns retailers over grocery price errors
Matt Browning
Written By:
Matt Browning

Shoppers incorrectly splashed out more on their groceries in 60% of the pricing errors made by retailers, a report finds.

The majority of issues in the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA’s) review of 139 grocery retailers happened in smaller convenience stores as opposed to bigger supermarkets.

Those stores had 14.4% of their groceries priced incorrectly, followed by independent food stores (7.8%) and ‘variety’ stores (5.6%) – which sell a range of goods alongside a selection of groceries.

Supermarkets proved to be the most reliable destinations for correct pricing, with only 4.2% of their groceries incorrectly priced.

Indeed, over half (57%) of all supermarkets in England and Wales inspected had no errors at all, while there was just a single mistake in a fifth of the supermarkets examined.

In the worse-performing stores, common faults included missing prices, conflicting prices between what’s shown on shelf edge labels compared to the products, and prices displayed too far away from the item.

Obscured labels and multi-buy confusion

As well as incorrect information, there were issues – largely among the independent stores – with individual prices in a multi-buy deal, which were unclear or had the price obscured.

The responsibility to display the cost of items correctly by those stores was questioned by the CMA.

It noted the problem “appears to indicate that some retailers are either not aware of their legal obligations or view compliance with the relevant consumer law as optional rather than mandatory, and do not, therefore, prioritise action to ensure they comply with their obligations.”

The CMA continued: “All retailers must ensure they comply with the law at all times, or risk enforcement action being taken against them.”

Its month-long investigation took place across a range of areas in the UK at the end of 2023 after the CMA launched a review in January.

It followed the authority’s “real concerns” that shoppers during a cost-of-living crisis were unable to spot the best deals when they most needed them. This was thanks to problems surrounding unit pricing – where a particular product is valued based on weight or volume.

Meanwhile, the Trading Standards and CMA have joined forces to remind retailers of how to display the goods on sale so they “do not mislead customers”.

The organisations have issued images of what is and is not acceptable to comply with the law.

‘Reminding businesses’ to comply with consumer law

George Lusty, interim executive director at the CMA, said: “We know how frustrating it can be when you get to the till only to find the price doesn’t match what was advertised.

“While lots of grocery retailers – particularly supermarkets – are complying with pricing rules, this needs to consistently be the case across all types of stores.”

Lusty added: “It’s important that shoppers can make well-informed choices based on accurate information, especially at a time when lots of people are looking to save money.

“That’s why we are reminding businesses of the importance of complying with consumer law.”