Supermarkets will soon have to provide "unit pricing" to make comparison shopping easier. Which stores have to feature them, and what quirks should you watch out for?
The ACCC's been having a pretty good couple of months when it comes to ensuring consumers get more information, having overseen new rules on clarity in pricing and started a crackdown on dodgy SMS providers. (OK, there was the GROCERYchoice debacle on the negative side of the ledger.)
The latest major development overseen by the ACCC is the Unit Pricing Code. Since the beginning of July, the code means that food retailers (both real-world and online) have to provide information on the relative costs of different items using a consistent scale. In other words, if you're looking at a bottle of milk, the retailer should tell you via the shelf label much it costs per litre as well as the sticker price -- making it easier to see if that jumbo-sized container is actually a good deal.
The code applies to any store which has more than 1,000 square metres of floor space dedicated to food, and to online stores that carry a defined minimum range of food items. In practice, that means it applies to most supermarkets but probably won't affect your local corner store (though they can opt-in to unit pricing labelling if they want to). Retailers have until the beginning of December to comply, though some introduced the labels even before the process became mandatory. As well as including the unit prices on store labels, they also must feature in print or online advertising.
One potentially confusing element of the plan is that not all items utilise the same units. For instance, prices for drinks are per litre, but for many other liquids the comparison is per 100 millilitres. However, the same basic unit must be used for all items within a given category. Most of the default unit settings seem sensible, but a few won't necessarily relate to how you use them: toilet paper, for instance, is unit priced per metre, and eggs are priced per 100 grams, not per egg.
Not all items have to display unit pricing -- particularly those which don't qualify as food or basic household supplies. The big exceptions within the food area are alcoholic beverages, ready meals prepared on the premises for immediate consumption, and bundles which incorporate multiple individual products in a bundle. Unit pricing also doesn't have to displayed on reduced-price goods being sold off near their due date or because of damage, or items that have been discontinued.
Milk picture from Wikimedia Commons
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