/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Morrisons and Sainsbury’s will Price it Right – who’s next?

fruit with plate and 'price it right' logo

For the second time in as many weeks I’m giving good news – no sooner had we redoubled our efforts to get supermarkets to display clearer unit pricing than two major supermarkets stood up to the challenge.

Morrisons has said it will start rolling out clearer and more consistent unit pricing labels, meaning that when you’re choosing between two similar products you’ll be able to tell at a glance which one represents the best value.

This is really important given that people all over the country are struggling with their budgets – we need to be able to tell whether a special offer genuinely offers better value, so we can get the most for our money.

By the end of 2013, all Morrisons stores will have shelf-edge labels showing a large, clear price per litre or kilo for products, such as in the example to the left. And it isn’t alone – Sainsbury’s has also announced that it’s trialling clearer unit pricing in stores, with the aim of moving to a clearer system.

Two down, more to go

One of the things I’ve learnt in the last (almost) two years working on Which? Campaigns is that it is really valuable when one or two companies take the lead on something. It’s all very well us calling for simpler energy tariffs or genuinely fixed mobile contracts, but often the thing that prevents change is that the industry cannot see how to make the changes.

We’re met with worries and concerns that if they make the change it will put them at a commercial disadvantage, that the changes are too difficult or expensive etc. But these concerns often melt away when they see that other companies are able to step up to the plate.

The question we’re asking supermarkets changes from ‘could you give us clearer unit pricing?’ to ‘if they can do it, why can’t you?’ And that’s really exciting for campaigners – the domino effect can be powerful – especially in industries where giving customers what they want can have a huge impact on businesses.

Misleading supermarket prices?

By taking steps to implement clearer unit pricing, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons are showing that they’ve listened to their customers. Our research, released this week, showed that 74% of people feel misled by supermarket prices. Personally, I’m annoyed that the lack of unit pricing makes it harder to distinguish the genuine deals from the ones that just shout ‘Buy me! Buy me! I’m on special offer!’

Customers aren’t stupid – we’re savvy and getting even savvier as our budgets get squeezed further. We know that somewhere, among all of the big bright ‘2 for 1!’ labels, there are real bargains – the question is just finding them. It seems from our research that people feel these are a little too hidden at the moment, and one of the best ways for a supermarket to show that it is listening to customers is to help them find these deals.

Clearer unit pricing means that you’ll be able to compare like-for-like items (and we’d like this to include all special offers) by weight or volume. You won’t need to choose between a 2-for-1 on 400g of cheese at £3.29 or a cheaper 500g of cheese at £2.10. Unit prices will mean that next to each product there’ll be a clear label saying £4.11 per kilo or £4.20 per kilo. Hey presto – you know which is the better value cheese.

So, this post is partly a celebration and partly a challenge. I’m delighted that one of the campaigns I’ve been working on for months has helped two supermarkets make the right decision on unit pricing – so well done to Morrisons and Sainsbury’s. And I’m perhaps even more pleased that we can extend the challenge further – Tesco, Asda, Aldi, Lidl, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer et al – what are you waiting for? If the others can do it, then why can’t you?

Comments
Member

This is good news so far as it goes. I won’t be sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for M&S to follow suit. It’s not in their tradition and still – despite recognising that food is currently their salvation – they feel that their customers are not price sensitive [and perhaps they don’t wish to appeal to that segment]. Up to now in many city centres [the buy on the way home from work market] they have enjoyed a freedom from adjacent competition or if there is any it’s an overcrowded poorly-stocked Tesco. But now, with other operators opening more and better town centre stores within walking distance [eg in former Woolworth buidings], they’ll have to improve their appeal to the average budget-conscious shopper.

The article did not mention The Cooperative which, following the Somerfield takeover, is now a major player in the grocery market especially for those who prefer the simpler stores, modest range and emphasis on good value for good quality. Their labelling is already quite good but they could do better, particularly to standardise the units used for comparative pricing and to clarify their offers.

Member
hoppingpinkrabbit says:
7 September 2012

Its not just clearer labelling- its labels which are actually correct!

Recently in Tesco a packet of ham read £2.00 for 130g or… £1 per 100g. I don’t think so…then there are offers- how do you know if the prices are inclusive of the discounts for multi-buys or not? What if you don’t want to buy 12 mullerlights and only want 1. Will the label work out this per 100g too?

And then there are the products which just don’t compare like with like, working out an item price rather then a weight price….wouldn’t it not just be easier if they just priced items fairly and we didn’t have to worry about being ripped off…

Member

I may be wrong but I believe that the unit pricing refers to the single item in Tesco. Most people would by the offer, so the unit price on the offer would be more useful.

I have a Tesco label from last year. A six pack of Seabrook Crisps for £1.28 or two for £2.00. Fair enough, but the unit price is given as an amazing £21.34 per 100g. I removed the label from the shelf to hand in at Customer Services but forgot, so it is a nice little memento of corporate silliness. If I was employed as a supermarket shelf stacker I would look out for these mistakes, in a desperate desire for something to tax the brain cells.

Member
Richard says:
8 October 2012

I agree with the comment posted on 7 September that unit pricing has to be correct. I did an on-line shop with Tesco and discovered in their fresh turkey section that out of about 10 products 6 were incorrectly unit priced. One, a pack of 380 g priced at £4 per pack, was shown as £8/kg. Clearly it is not! Even the most mathematically challenged amongst us can work out that buying 2 packs costs £8 and you would have less than 800 g of turkey. I phoned customer services and told them about each item wrongly unit priced and commented that this was just in the section I had checked. I was assured that this would be addressed by their department, but I cannot recall being thanked for drawing it to their attention, and actually got the impression I was making a fuss for nothing.

What is the point of unit pricing at all if it is wrong? At best it is pointless and confusing; at worst it is directly misleading customers into making purchases that they wouldn’t otherwise make.

Member

Personally if things are on special offer I tend to look a bit closer anyway. Two things in Tesco that really does bug me is unit pricing in a mix of 1 kg, 100 g and also displayed in price per lb, worsened by being in different size and type of font on different items. I recently almost got caught out on this. Mostly their kg unit pricing is predominantly larger that the lb price (I thought this had to be so by law?), but with one item with both the same size, and being in between reading and distance glasses range I mistook the lb price on an item and compared it to a kg price on one nearby. I was not amused as in this particular instance it seemed deliberate that the lb price was made the same size as the kg price, out of sequence to the others. Now, is there really anyone out there that genuinely needs the price in lbs when everything is sold by the kg? As a mature OAP I think not.
The second is the wine pricing. Just because most wine is in 75 cl bottles it should NOT be unit priced per 75 cl, that I am sure must be illegal, especially as it is next to the boxed wine which is priced correctly per litre. That makes comparisons a little more difficult.

Member

I like the fact you’re enthusiastic about this, but by the end of 2013. Is it really that difficult, I think not.

The next time a supermarket changes a products price, is the ideal time to update the unit pricing for all like products. And as we all know prices change almost weekly. I’m sure if they truly wanted to help the consumer they’d be able to do this alot quicker.

The fact that virtually no supermarket can hold their hand up and say look we’re doing it right across the board, I guess it could take them a while to decide on a sensible pricing.

The other sad thing about this is the fact that as they’re all going to do doing this piecemeal, is I can see different supermarkets adopting different unit prices, as that’ll be about the only way they’ll still be able to mislead the consumer.

Maybe which? could list products with a guideline unit price as we can try and fend off that.

Member

By the end of 2013!! Yes, why not by the end of the month? How hard can it be.

Member

I can only say that I have shopped at Sainsburys for many years – I can’t rememb