How Unit Pricing Will Help You Save On Shopping

milkstuffSupermarkets 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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Comments

    It'll save me converting everything for my wife as we walk down the aisles.

    Interesting point with the online food retailers, are there many of those in AU?

    It's been introduced into my local shopping center ('though I can only recall seeing this at Coles.) While one could always say the onus is on the shopper, I don't fancy doing some arithmetic for every item. This is a real benefit - you can compare across brands, within brands (quantity) and you often find that what would seem the best buy (quote often the larger sized item) is charged at a higher rate. Bravo to the engineers of this change.

    The UK had this back in around 2000, and it worked a treat. The only question is why has it taken so long to get it in Australia?

      We were too busy being awesome. And beating you at cricket.

    This is not a new concept. I remember it in my local Safeway store in the late 70s - early 80s. [Boronia, Vic.] It eventually just faded quietly away. Why have the supermarket chains been saying for many years that it is just too costly to implement now when it happened all those years ago? And there were no computers in those days to do all the calculations. It's really just reinstating what existed 30-odd years ago. Bring it on NOW.

    My Woolies have it already.. cause its such a big job to change the ticketing in a supermarket to comply with the law they have been rolling it out for months now..

    And it is a big job.. I was involved with the over night change over of tickets in a supermarket when GST was brought in..

    My local supermarket has a cunning partial unit pricing strategy. I've noticed that they've been unit pricing items advertised for sale, and also similar items that display a similar or higher price per unit.

    They haven't been unit pricing the similar items that show up the 'on sale' items as not quite as cheap as you might thing.

    Gives you that warm glow inside.

    Cost and computing power is not the issue (and never was). Supermarkets like confusing their customers and make money from the confusion. Is the 835gm "Value Pack" really better value than the 500gm regular pack? often not.

    Woolworths in Perth have been using unit pricing on most lines for almost a year now, but still do not use it on all labels even where pricing has changed and the label recently printed. So they are still hiding some unit costs.

    Coles finally started a couple of weeks ago, but only seem to be showing it on the specials so far. Which means there are no regular labels to compare the unit pricing with.

    I haven't seen it used in any of the IGA's.

    Peter.

    I wonder why it doesn't apply to alcoholic beverages?

      The partial answer is that the stores being targeted don't sell them (unlike, say, the UK). And in some categories, it'd be redundant (e.g. wine more or less universally sold in 750ml bottles). And then the "don't encourage people to drink by pointing out the discounts" factor comes in a little.

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