With incomes squeezed and food prices continuing to rise, many people are shopping around for the best prices. It is therefore more important than ever that supermarket pricing is clear and easy to understand. Which?’s mystery shopping has, however, repeatedly found problems with the way that unit prices are displayed and our Price It Right campaign calls on supermarkets to end hard-to-read and inconsistent pricing.
The good news is that it’s starting to happen. In the past month, there has been a significant step with voluntary commitments made by Aldi, The Co-operative Group, Morrisons and Waitrose to improve unit pricing. Other supermarkets are starting to improve shelf-edge labels, but have further to go.
These four, however, have committed to displaying a consistent unit price for similar products, including the unit price of food items on promotion and making sure pricing labels are clearly visible and adhere, where possible, to guidelines Which? has developed with the Royal National Institute for the Blind.
“Unit pricing works as a brilliant tool to enable price comparisons”
Our research has previously found different units used for similar products and unit prices that are too difficult to read. With so many products on promotion at the moment, people need to be able to easily compare special offers to establish which really are the best deal. But until now, most retailers have failed to give the unit price for products on promotion.
Sainsbury’s has been working on making its pricing more transparent over the past 18 months and has been working to ensure more consistent pricing of fruit and veg. Lidl and Tesco have also started to simplify how their prices are shown and Asda has said it will look at how it can improve its labelling but Iceland and Marks & Spencer have yet to commit to any improvements.
Our latest monthly consumer insight tracker reinforced consumer concern about food prices: 73% of people are concerned about them, second only fuel and energy prices. Eight in 10 (78%) tell us they are shopping around to get the best price and 43% are now comparing food prices when shopping in store more than they were a year ago. So it is essential that the way prices are displayed enables them to do this.
Unit pricing can frustrate people when it is done poorly but is a brilliant tool that enables easy comparisons when done well. Some supermarkets have already started to roll out their new labels and others will do so in the coming weeks.
It is now important that others follow suit and that the government helps the process by simplifying food pricing legislation where it has become outdated and leads to unnecessary inconsistencies.
Sue Davies is chief policy adviser at Which?