Beware of product mispricing this ‘silly season’


Suppliers may not always display goods with labelled prices.

It is crazy, shoppers are excited and cannot wait for Black Friday.  Shortly afterwards, christmas rush will be coming up. All those bargains, all those gifts to buy … shop, shop, shop. And one has to eat.

Retailers  have been busy increasing their prices to make up for the high fuel costs, and stores  are frantically stocking their shelves for the Christmas rush, consumers have to blindly trust that the shelf prices are timeously updated.

The question is, are retailers more concerned with stocking up or will they ensure prices displayed on the shelves relate to the goods?

Generally, shoppers fill up a trolley with items they are aware of the price per item, and remember these prices when the cashier is ringing up the goods. How many shoppers have an uneasy feeling that the price they have to pay is a bit higher than the price that they expected to pay?

In this new digital world, not many stores put individual prices on goods. How can one then check all the prices at the till?

Recently at Pick n Pay (Hyde Park), I had an experience that left me feeling somewhat uneasy, and very irritated. I simultaneously saw a small jar of almond nut butter (great for a salad-only meal) and underneath it a price of R41.99.

My brain quickly ran through my purchasing paradigm: size of jar (small), the usual price (very expensive), packaging (this was a plastic jar, yech), perhaps this was a special price. Conclusion: price unrealistic.

Looking more closely I saw that the price was not related to any goods on the shelf. Further, the jars contained many different products that should have different prices. None of the jars were priced.

Making a mental note that I would check the price at the till, I grabbed a jar. Not that straightforward. The cashier couldn’t tell me what the price was without ringing it up. On seeing that the actual price was over R100, I asked her to void the transaction.

And herein lies the catch! The cashier couldn’t void the transaction.

A supervisor had to be called. The cashier continued ringing up all the other items while we waited. And waited and waited.

Luckily there was not a long queue of shoppers. I imagined how difficult it would be to wait for a product to be voided on a busy Saturday morning.

One would think that the supervisor would have been apologetic when she eventually arrived. Banish the thought. I asked the supervisor if she was aware that there was a shelf of products for which no prices were displayed. She didn’t believe me, until I showed her the picture. (The consumer is always right? Wrong!)

She then asked me why there is no price … yes, she did. I suggested she call someone else. This was a wait too long, and I walked out without purchasing anything.

This irritating episode got me thinking of consumer rights versus the obligations of stores.

Technically, Pick n Pay did not display the incorrect price: it simply chose not to display the price.

The price of R41.99 was for ‘Brown rice crisp’ – whatever that is, it cannot possibly be confused with almond butter, nor any of the other items on that shelf.

Is this an indication of a haphazard ‘no care’ attitude in stocking shelves, or an intent to be sneaky? In my view it clearly qualifies as ‘misleading price indication’.

However, not everyone reads each label on the shelf closely. A less observant shopper may not have noticed that they had paid over R100 for an item they thought was priced R41.99.

In terms of The Consumer Protection Act, No 68 of 2008: “a supplier may not display any goods for sale without displaying a price in relation to those goods”.

The price must either be displayed on the item, or on the shelf on which the item is placed. The price must also be “in any way represented in a manner from which it may reasonably be inferred that the price represented is a price applicable to the goods or services in question”.

Most retailers would have charged me the lesser amount for the almond butter. In fact, I can attest to the fact that Woolworths charged me the lesser price once when the shelf price was incorrect.

And the supervisor was extremely apologetic. This left me with warm fuzzy feelings towards Woolworths for a while.

Nevertheless, I continue to check all prices with an eagle eye. And I suggest that you do too.

The ‘Earth&Co brown rice crisp plain 100g R41,99’ label clearly doesn’t refer to the 250g jar of White Almond Nut Butter on the shelf above it or the 225g packet of wafer biscuits on the shelf below. The actual price? A three-digit number. Picture: Barbara Curson


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