Be Careful Of Missing Unit Pricing On Specials

Be Careful Of Missing Unit Pricing On Specials

Unit pricing — specifying the cost of goods in terms of a single consistent measure — has been a legal requirement in Australia since December 2009, and the ACCC has promised to crack down on stores which don’t use it. However, there do still seem to be problems when it comes to specials.

Regular Lifehacker commenter poedgirl points out that in recent weeks, Coles appears to have been inconsistent in its pricing approach on specials. In the attached shot, the unit price for Coke has been specified for the regular price ($1.33 per litre), but not for the ‘3 for $5’ special (which would work out at around $0.84 per litre). Missing the unit price for the special actually undersells the deal.

Arguably, if one price is going to be missing, it’s better for it to be the special: that way, the unit price for a single bottle remains accurate, and someone who takes up the special gets a better deal, not a worse one. But offering both prices would ultimately be more useful for consumers — and, it must be said, more persuasive.

Unit pricing is a great idea but does have some obvious flaws in the current implementation. For instance, the units used vary for different categories (per 100g for some, but per kg for others), and there’s often even variation in a given product category. Nonetheless, it’s still something that makes shopping easier, and we’re keen to see it used properly. Have you spotted similar unit pricing issues in your local supermarket? Tell us in the comments. Thanks poedgirl!


  • The problem comes around when you have specials of 2 products that may be a different size. For example, last week, Woolies had 3 packs of Tim Tams (and Royals, Mint SLice etc) for $4.98. So for standard Tim Tams, it’s easy to see that 3 packs of 200grams each is 600 grams. But if you got the new Mint or Rum’n’Raisin Tim Tams, then thats 3 packs of 165grams, or 495 grams total. And there would obviously be differences in the range. So they’d need to have a range for the unit price, which may just be confusing.

  • Tesco’s in the UK has a very good implementation of unit pricing by breaking it down to individual items within a pack. e.g. a pack of 10 biscuits, they would give you the price per biscuit. Same with cheese slices, etc. A bit of quick maths (unit price x qty) gives you good comparisons for different sized products.

      • I’m not entirely sure how you think the retailer is being encouraged to sell smaller biscuits. It would be more of a manufacturer issue to start with. It’s more in your face than the weight. When was the last time you ate 100g of biscuits? Or used 100g of laundry powder? These figures end up being quite meaningless.

        I don’t carry scales with me everywhere so I resort to eating a number of biscuits and wash my clothes with scoop. If manufacturers got sorted then you would know how much a biscuit weighs / scoop weighs.

  • I’ve noticed occasionally that the same products different brands have the unit price in different units (ie one in terms of volume and another in terms of mass). This seems to correspond to what the manufacturer has put the quantity in terms of on the packaging so it’s hard to blame the supermarket, but it can make it difficult to determine which product is better value for money.

  • Unit pricing is good, but still fairly useless for some products. Take for example washing powder.

    Washing powder is sold as ‘concentrated’ or ‘3 x concentrated’ or some other meaningless term. As *all* washing powder contains filler and the amount of detergent is variable, price per 100g or per kg doesn’t mean much.

    In these cases you would need some standard on either active ingredient OR recommended use. For washing powder this could be the number of standard washes. The definition of a standard wash doesn’t matter if everyone has to use the same measure.

    But defining these sorts of ‘funcional’ measures would be complex, costly and time-consuming.

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