In a tough economic climate, consumers need to know that they are getting the best possible deal. But despite the growth in online supermarket shopping, most have to shop around in much the same way as they do on the High Street. How much better it would be if we consumers had comparative data on the price of goods, not just retailer by retailer, but shop by shop, product by product? Then we really would know where the best offers were.
On January 15th John Denham MP will be introducing a private members bill in Parliament that will require supermarkets to make available, in an online format, all their pricing data by product and by store.
This Bill would enable both existing price comparison services and the creators of smart phone apps to find innovative ways of making this data publicly available. John Denha
m MP anticipates this would not only give consumers the ability to compare the price of their weekly shopping basket at each major store, but the transparency would also force supermarkets to put an end to the kind of misleading ‘special offers’ that we see so regularly.
In the past year, there has been some strong criticism of some pricing policies, most recently reflected in the OFT report that gives new guidance to supermarkets. For example, in March, The Grocer magazine found that in a major Tesco price-drop campaign, more items went up in price over 6 weeks (3,258) than went down (1,962). Tesco allegedly created the illusion of a big price drop by moving prices up just before the campaign. For example, Tesco placed ads in newspapers showing its own label cream of tomato soup “Was 59p, Now 45p”, however, six weeks before this ad was placed, it was just 46p. More recently, Which? looked into misleading multibuy deals, finding a long list of bad deals, including a Goodfella’s Deep Pan Pepperoni pizza initially on sale at Asda for £1 that went up to £2.50 for one or £4.50 for two in the multibuy ‘deal’. The reason why these deals keep on popping up is because there is no comprehensive way in which to monitor these bad deals.
We agree with John Denham that we need a comprehensive way to police these misleading offers, and make sure that shoppers are getting value for money right across the country. Making price data accessible online would make such policing much easier and far less time consuming for public agencies and retailers alike. More effective market scrutiny might reduce the need for further regulation and codes of conduct. More transparency would highlight where supermarkets price things differently depending on which part of the country you live in, and let you know if you’re really getting a bargain.
In principle, price data like this is publicly available. All consumers need is an army of volunteers to go into every store. But Denham believes that there is a simpler way. His Private Member’s Bill, to be introduced in the House of Commons on Tuesday 15 January, would make sure shoppers are really getting value for money.