Out of 20,579 products examined, almost a quarter lacked a price label

Shoppers are losing millions of pounds from pricing errors in Scottish convenience stores and “unacceptable levels” of short-weight goods, new data has shown.

According to an investigation by Scottish Trading Standards, managers and owners showed a “continuing lack” of understanding in pricing regulations, following a similar inquiry in 2022, with non-compliances not often recognised as criminal offences. 

Of 20,579 products examined across 417 stores, almost a quarter lacked a price label, which goes against the rules outlined in the Price Marking Order 2004.

Scottish Trading Standards said this posed “significant challenges for consumers” as it potentially led to overpayment and undermining trust in businesses.

It also found 34.1% of products checked for unit price indications were incorrect, with 67% lacking any unit price display at all. An additional 5,997 products were checked at the point of sale, with 11.6% being incorrectly charged, and 79% of these being to the detriment of the consumer.

Officers said the results highlighted the importance to address pricing-related concerns, such as through conducting re-visits and reviewing complaint management processes.

“Transparency in pricing is at the heart of fair trade in goods and is a core issue for Trading Standards teams across Scotland, making sure that consumers pay the correct price for their purchases and that businesses are diligent in presenting goods for sale accurately and legally,” said Alexandra Connell, chair for the society of chief officers of Trading Standards in Scotland.

“With a continuing cost of living crisis, it is important that the processes and systems that should be in place are working properly and that consumers pay the correct amount for their shopping. My advice to shoppers is always check prices carefully when in store and make sure you have been properly charged at the till.”

Scottish co-operative Scotmid said its rollout of electronic shelf labels (ESLs) have been key to fulfilling accuracy and transparency in pricing.

”By implementing ESLs across all our stores, we’ve significantly reduced the likelihood of pricing errors,” said Margaret Anne Clark, chief operating officer for services at Scotmid.

”These innovative digital labels not only streamline pricing management processes for our colleagues, saving valuable time and resources, they also enhance the overall shopping experience by providing real-time updates and accurate information. Our investment in ESLs reinforces our position as a trusted convenience retailer.”

Officers throughout the west of Scotland also collaborated on a separate project aimed at identifying short weight products across 146 retail outlets, including supermarkets, convenience stores and farm shops.

A total of 1,479 different product lines were checked, with 5% containing short weight packs, it found. The prevalence of short weight packs was greater than those found in the 2022 investigation, the results added. 

Some examples included a 750g steak pie with a gross weight of 578g, representing a loss to consumers of £1.97 per pack, and 7.5kg hardwood eco logs that weighed just 6.18kg, causing detriment of £1.05 per pack to consumers.

Although the vast majority of packs did not give cause for concern, 50 different packers were found to be responsible for placing the non-compliant products on the market, constituting a potential offence by the packer as well as causing financial harm to consumers, Scottish Trading Standards said. 

It added that these pricing and short-weight errors proved the overall detriment to the consumer was a significant factor in the continuing cost of living crisis.

“Consumers should always get what they pay for, and fair measurement is a centuries-old principle at the heart of fair trade in goods and at the heart of our profession, making sure that consumers get what they pay for and that businesses are weighing and measuring goods accurately,” added Connell.

“As with the pricing issues, and the key importance of weights and measures to the overall market, metrological systems must be working properly.”