Beware Of Fake 'Specials' At Supermarkets

If there's one thing everybody loves, it's buying groceries that are on special. Supermarkets know this, which is why price drops are always highlighted with eye-catching stickers. No harm, no foul right? However, some chains have taken the dubious step of introducing 'Price Match' labels which look suspiciously like discount stickers. (On a related note, if you attempt to take a photo of this fact, you could get kicked out of the store and accused of being a terrorist. I speak from experience.)

In the past, we've looked at how supermarkets use deceptive pricing to maximise profits — common examples include packaging house brands to look like the real thing and hiding cheaper items below eye level. You can take a look at some of their sneakiest practices here.

However, we think the recent "Price Match" initiative adopted by several stores is particularly insidious. Check out the above image from IGA Blaxland. At first glance, the product appears to be on special: the regular price tag has been covered with a colourful sticker with bold, all-caps lettering; just like every other discount sticker you've ever seen.

However, removing the label reveals an identical price underneath:

Rather than advertising a special, the sticker is merely highlighting the fact that the product has been 'price matched' with other supermarket chains. In other words, the saving you receive is actually zero. Even when the product has been reduced to match competitor pricing, it's not on 'special' like the sticker design implies. Instead, they're just not charging you extra, which is hardly anything to crow about.

Now granted, the sticker doesn't flat-out state that the item is on special, but the suggestion is clearly there. If you're shopping in a rush or are just generally absentminded, it's easy to see how this sticker would fool you.

Incidentally, IGA Blaxland didn't take kindly to my consumer sleuthing — which is a massive understatement. Shortly after taking the above photo, the acting manager descended on my trolley and sternly informed me that I what I was doing was a criminal offense (which is patently false). He then threatened to ban me permanently from the store and said that for all he knew, I "could be a terrorist."

Needless to say, I wont be shopping there again. Unless I'm out of milk, natch.

What's the dodgiest pricing practice or store policy you've encountered at a supermarket? Share you stories in the comments section below.


Comments

    Good advice.

    Also, Angus did a post back in 2012 that listed a few other "tricks" the supermarkets use.
    http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2012/08/five-sneaky-tricks-supermarkets-use-to-make-you-spend-more-and-how-to-beat-them/

    /shrug

    Everyone does this. I worked retail for about 7 years through highschool/uni. Just because something is in the catalogue/has a tag doesn't mean it's reduced.

    Hell, if you pay attention, you'll see that the tags have a running theme (advertised item, 'everyday low price', discount, etc) that you can tell just by the colour of it, in most bigger chains.

    All the local supermarkets here have digital price displays so you can't even see the original price when they do this :\

      How exactly is this achieved? I'm quite curious.

        It looks like this: http://i102.photobucket.com/albums/m105/chrisjnoble/blog/electronicpricetag.jpg

        It always displays the actual "price at checkout", and it's even easier to adjust than printing out a new special sticker, so you never know what the prices used to be :\

        Last edited 19/03/14 9:36 am

          Is that clipped into the shelf or part of the shelf itself?

          Curious as to where it gets power from - it's own small battery or the whole shelf is wired up.
          I would assume it's some sort of e-ink display for incredibly low power.

          Do you know if the prices can be changed from a central point or if they have to go to each one and use some sort of bluetooth/NFC or something similar?

            It's just clipped onto the shelf, they slide around on that white track behind without much difficulty.

            I imagine it'd be a combination of e-ink and solar panels / small batteries.

            Edit: seems to be from a company called pricer http://www.pricer.com/en/Solutions/Electronic-Shelf-Label-System/

            Last edited 19/03/14 10:02 am

            Those "digital" pride tickets are powered and updated through the fluorescent lighting in the store.

            A retail store that I work at was considering using them, and had a demo model, and that is what we were informed.

            They aren't very cheap though, and even with the price errors, it works out cheaper for us to use paper tickets in our independent retail business.

    At a local Foodland/IGA (it's labeled as both some how, it's now also Drake's)
    They've had the Nutella spreads available since the beginning of time (or longer? idk I wasn't there so I have to assume because how else would facts be derived from life?)
    They had 500g and 1kg tubs of the stuff, they then got a promotional lot which was meant to be sold as 500g but contained 700g because 40% extra (or something (maths)) for free but this store made another price point, to further profit from something which they did not pay more for..
    seems very shifty to me!

    Hah! I read the blurb and thought "even my supermarket isn't that terrible". Turns out it is. I also go to IGA Blaxland.

    So what is the law about taking photos in a shop? You say that taking photos in a store is patently not a criminal offense but can you back that up?

    I sure would like to have a snappy come back if this ever happened to me.

      On private property you can be directed not to take further photos, but anything you've already taken is theoretically fair game. You cannot be directed to delete photos, and you cannot be compelled to show what photos you've already taken unless there's suspicion an actual criminal event (e.g. upskirt photos) has taken place, and even then the direction can only be given by a member of law enforcement.

        Oh OK. And I guess if there is a sign saying "No Photography".

        Not that arguing with a store manager will actually get you "anywhere", it's just good to know.

          Even if there is a sign that says 'no photography', taking a photo isn't a criminal offence. They can ask you to leave their private property, but they can do that without the signs anyways.

          Guy who 'manages' a supermarket gives bad legal advice?! That's unpossible!

        Up skirt photos are actually OK in public because you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy there. If you were taking them in the loo or something - then you'd get in trouble.

        Either way, its creepy as hell.

          Varies state by state, that one. Some states (QLD, for example) have laws specifically prohibiting it. Reasonable expectation of privacy doesn't apply.

            Cheers for that.

            Saw an article with a fair bit of outrage about a guy getting let go. Didn't know it varied by state.

              That was actually what prompted the laws being drafted, from memory.

      You can take a photo anywhere where people don't have a reasonable expectation of privacy - ie, bathrooms, etc. Anywhere else is under the law, perfectly legal. They can tell you to not take photographs, but it's not a criminal offense if you do.

      There is no law about taking photos inside stores, however they can legitimately have a policy of not allowing people to take photos within their store, and if people do, they can be kicked out.

      It is best to check before hand.

      At the independent retail store I work at, it is store policy that photos are not to be taken in store, however exceptions can be made if discussed with the store owner before hand.

      I also know a jeweller who will not let people take photos of his products because they are items he has personally designed, made, and obviously doesn't want people ripping off his intellectual property.

    If anyone asks why I'm taking a photo in a store, I say it's either to remind me to check my stocks at home (supermarket) or to make a gift list (elsewhere).

    If I'm in a music store that has no listening facilities, I take a snap of the album cover and try to find an online preview.

    How is a price being matched a saving of zero? It's a saving over their old price..

    Why would they price match and then just not advertise it? "We just did this out of the goodness of our hearts we have no intent on capitalizing on it"..

    Even when you say they package own brands to look like "the real thing".. What the fuck is "the real thing"? Are their products not real? They must put them in plain packaging that looks terrible or you aren't happy..?

    I mean I agree they do some devious intentioned things.. But this is really pushing the envelope..

      "How is a price being matched a saving of zero? It's a saving over their old price.."

      Look at the second picture, the price matched price is $1.99. Their old price is also $1.99. Savings = $0.00.

        If it was previously $2.99 and they price match it to $1.99....

        The LABEL shows no saving, but unless you're going to leave the store and shop around for that single food items, then you ARE saving the difference. They have done this to cater to consumer demand as a service.. To act as though that is worthless is pretty strange.

      He moved the tag to show that the original price underneath is actually the same as the "matched" price, meaning they didn't actually have to make any reduction to bring about the parity - then highlighting this in a fashion that makes it seem like they had actually done some discounting to achieve it.

      Granted, it's doesn't even rate on the list of devious things that marketers get up to, I'll give you that.

        Hmm, possibly true, and well explained - but seems like an assumption. The tickets are marketing pieces. Accurate price tags (such as when a price is PERMANENTLY lowered) SHOULD be updated on the shelving itself - the tag is to indicate a change and advertise that they have done so based on consumer demand. Otherwise they would have to change the ticket twice, rather than simply removing the advertising later.

      @zzyss The point is there is no old price, the old price was the same. They're just promoting that their item isn't overpriced.

      Last edited 18/03/14 3:24 pm

      Even when you say they package own brands to look like "the real thing".. What the fuck is "the real thing"? Are their products not real?

      If you place a bottle of Coke next to a house-brand cola with deliberately similar packaging, the Coke is "the real thing". I'd wager this makes perfect sense to 99.9% of people who read this article.

      Why would they price match and then just not advertise it? "We just did this out of the goodness of our hearts we have no intent on capitalizing on it"..

      That's exactly what they should do. If a supermarket decides to match (not beat) pricing with a competitor, I don't expect them to dress it up like it's a price-cutting special worthy of your attention: they've just made the price the same as everywhere else.

        The same as everywhere else? So everywhere has the same prices? The fact is, they have generated their pricing models which has established their base pricing, and then have subverted this model, potentially into non-profitability for an item in many cases, just to be the same price as ONE other competitor (the one you are price matching).

        A classic example of this is IGA, with much lower buying power and higher logistics costs, matching Coles or Woolworths. Does this undermine the value of them doing so to the consumer? Should they just accept that their prices are going to be higher and NOT price match?

        I am very confused as to how a company trying to do something good for people at their own request is being portrayed as a negative lie.

        And I understand your point about the "real" thing, but once again, many consumers don't buy such products simply because of how they look. They're clearly trying to rectify this, which in the end should end up with more households buying perfectly fine items, at much lower prices. I very highly doubt though any consumer is going to mistake..

        Woolworths brand
        http://www2.woolworthsonline.com.au/Content/ProductImages/big/756022.jpg

        With Coke..
        http://www2.woolworthsonline.com.au/Content/ProductImages/big/093167.jpg

        I mean.. I suppose they are both red.. Those crafty bastards.

        PS: There's more info/replies above to the other comments..

        Last edited 18/03/14 4:24 pm

          You're not confused. Your just trying to prove some point or something.

          Cheers.

            I guess that's true.. In that I disagree with the assertions made.

            Cheers.

    One of my least favourite deceptions are labels with prices for rewards card holders only. This label often obscures the normal price, so it's very easy to pick one of these up thinking that's the price you're going to get.

      This annoys the hell out of me. I'm one of those maven assholes that needs to know the price of everything, and even I've been fooled like five times. The worst part is, I ended up wasting other peoples time, because I have to get the nice checkout person to take the item off, because I'm not paying the non-card-holder price.

        This does getting annoying, but you can always ask for the temp loyalty cards. Woolies have temp cards, not sure about Coles.

      That's a bit strange. At woolies, the non-rewards price is also listed on the orange price tag. Not sure about Coles though, I don't really shop there much.

    Woolies have their own brand toilet paper at $10.99, with a cross out $11.99 reduced or something similar. It has NEVER been anything other than $10.99. Similar sort of stuff going on around the store.

      maybe three years ago it was $11.99

      They did this with the margarine i buy, put the price up to $3.49 for a few months, them bam its back to the original price of $2.99 and they have got the sticker there saying how much they are saving us by lowering the price

    Yep, I don't get this "I can't be bothered actually reading the tag, so I'll go ahead and assume it's on special."

    Nothing being falsely advertised here, or even alluded to.

      Thats one word that gets people "special" doesn't mean its on sale or cheaper its just special.

    Actually.. you'll find that "data stripping" label is the NEW price. There's data stripping labels, and there's "shelf talkers". Yes, both get used. They aren't just covering up the old price. You'll find that the data stripping label has been replaced.

    I really hope you somehow send the store manager a link to this article. He'll shit bricks :P

    Now granted, the sticker doesn’t flat-out state that the item is on special, but the suggestion is clearly there. If you’re shopping in a rush or are just generally absentminded, it’s easy to see how this sticker would fool you.

    So what would you like the sticker to say, this is a price match sticker to indicate a price match even though you may think its a special disguised, it really is a price match. Also if you are in a rush and cant read that this is a price match meaning you are actually getting a good price but feel ripped off because you thought it was a special, apologies for that and here's a coupon for improving your reading skill and getting some logic.

    The supermarket is matching the price the bigger markets are doing, that's seems like a saving to me considering how little margin they would making.

    If a store makes a price of say $10.00 and then another store does it for $7.00 so the first store does it for $5.00 followed by the second store reducing once again, this can only end badly. Now if a store matches the price of another store, then whats the problem with that.

    You just cant win these days, people want you to price match so you do but then get called out because they think its a special and call it misleading. So you do it at a lower price and people then call it out saying it ain't cheap enough.

    Just look at most catalogues now, they aren't advertising specials, they are advertising stock available in store, the Big W catalogue last week didn't have a saving until page 11, everything else before that was just showing what is coming into store.

    Pretty much all retail stores use something visual to show price, regardless if it is a saving or not.

    I would be more concerned that the idiot IGA manager suggested you could be a terrorist because god knows if I was to ever pick a location for a terror attack it would totally be an IGA.

    Some consumers need as much guidance as possible when it comes to prices, when I have a customer ask me to price match something that is more expensive at Kmart than it is at Big W I worry for the future.

    I was thinking about this, but it might actually make sense.

    IGA drops their price, so need to update the tags. They also want to draw attention to the change. So you put in a new tag for the new price, then plop the price match tag on top.

    Leaving the old, not valid any more price underneath would not make sense. Adding the large tag, then later updating the underneath tag is more work. Not to mention, if the large tag comes off (as they sometimes do) then you have the incorrect price displayed. Having the correct price underneath makes it easy to just remove the other one when it has had the price match tag long enough.

    This seems to me to be the most efficient way of doing things and is not at all misleading IMO. Personally I would show what the old price was on there as well, for added effect.

    Whether or not the tags looks like specials is a whole different story, but really, it's the best sort of special, one that never ends! Assuming of course that they really did price match and are not lying.

      Right on the money, Chris would have not even spotted this price/item without this tag.
      IGA has an issue that a lot of people think they are more expensive then the big two, whether they dropped the price or not I cant tell but they are saying 'here look this product is the same as the big supermarkets'.
      Plus I don't see the words special on the tag anywhere and just because everyone thinks that 'yellow = special' dose not mean they are misleading in anyway as all we have to do is read the tag.

      This is both logical and plausible. It's just that as a marketing ploy it's somewhat dubious because the two possibilities then are (a) that they did not actually reduce the price and are simply highlighting their parity with the other major supermarket chains, or (b) that they did reduced the price but then failed to show that change so as to leave some lingering doubts about whether there was any change at all, and if so, the size (e.g. was it just reducing 1c)?

      The fail is not in logic or execution, it's in the concept.

        Not if they want to advertise their policy of price matching, in which case the exact amount is unnecessary. Since IGA's most frequent complaint (I assume) is that they don't price match, highlighting that they are putting extra effort into this problem would be a desirable goal for them (without overdoing it and making it seem like they are way overpriced).

    The only way that this could be misleading is if you mislead yourself by being a dummy and not reading what it says on the tag.

    However, they do a really rubbish job of explaining it, and I don't think the whole Price Match campaign was at all a great idea, but they have pamphlets and signs everywhere to cover their asses. If I were them, I would hire someone else to write it, or even to conduct the whole campaign, as it was done pretty poorly.

    Has anyone actually read it? The signs and the pamphlets? It looks like an assignment that was written an hour before it was due. P's get degrees, and jobs too by the look of it!

    Also, one would probably be correct in assuming that the tags were put there to try and make money off the absentminded shopper without losing money themselves. With all the signs around the only person that can be blamed is the shopper themselves.

    Tricking customers is the new clever marketing campaign, haven't you heard? It takes a lot less effort and provides a lot more opportunities for you to rub your hands together and laugh maniacally.

    I am a little shocked that you were treated that way by the acting manager. Unfortunately any complaints against managers don't go far, as the store manager scraps them so the people that own the store are none the wiser, or the store manager is the owner.

    Part of me wants to go to Blaxland IGA just to see how many photos I could take of prices before getting kicked out - that's ridiculous they'd do such a thing. Though may not be just Blaxland - I have a work colleague who got kicked out of an IGA (along with 4 other colleagues) during a lunch break for going around writing down prices (not even photos.)

    1. Standard super market policy to ask people to leave if they are writing down prices/taking photos. Commonly due to competitors and competitor suppliers trying to gauge layouts, pricing and supply. There are companies paid to do this as a type of market research and it is never appreciated so its a blanket ban.
    2. When specials/price changes are applied the backing ticket is also changed unless it is a temporary sale. The barker is only put there when it is a recent change to highlight the fact that it has been done. They are then removed usually within a couple weeks of being applied as ticket changes are an expensive enterprise. Each time any of these are damaged they need to be replaced and it happens ALOT. Spread that across an entire chain for example Coles and the time/material costs are in the 10s of thousands.

    While they are not doing anything wrong in highlighting the fact that it is the same price as a competitor they are trying to get one over you at the same time.

    The layout , size, font, colours and branding is all consistent with a product on special tag.

    It is convenient and right for them to put the words "price match" on the tag as they can claim that it is not their fault you thought it was on special as they informed you.

    The difference is that they have created the tag with the specific intention of tricking at least some people into buying it thinking they were getting a deal.

    The save value will only be present if the item is on promotion. In this case the items are not on promotion, they are the new regular sell price.

    Just like if the cost of a product decreased, it would not become a "save $xx.xx". It's simply the new regular sell.

    I discovered a very special Special tonight at Coles in the meat section. Kangaroo steaks had been reduced by $2 / kg. The original weight for the normal price is just the weight of the meat itself, not the packaging. But when they adjust for the special price, they re-weight the item WITH the packaging and then apply the discounted per kg price, meaning you only save 1 or 2c on half a kilo ... some of the discounted items were even the same price as the original price.

    When I pointed this out to one manager he first tried to say it was because the meat was cold when they applied the special price and it weighs more cold - seriously ??? When he saw I didn't buy that story he said he'd just reduce the price on one item for me. On checkout, I raised it to the store manager who didn't really see the issue with how they applied the special price, but they would look at it tomorrow.

    Hmmmm ... Mistake or Deception ????

    I see the local iga stores have introduced a price match promise with the phrase 'we check, we match, you win'. Years ago when I played sport any score that was equal was called a draw, not a win. Iga won't price match store milk prices. Woolys and Coles 2 litre milk is $2. Why is the 2 litre iga milk $2.75. The list of things they won't match is endless. The sooner Aldi spread their wings and give Iga some decent competition the better. 'It pays to shop independent', I don't think so.

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