It was a TV moment I’ve not forgotten.
Watchdog presenter Anne Robinson waving various tins and multi-packs of dog food in front of my then British Retail Consortium boss while quoting toilet roll prices at him and shrieking, “Which would you buy? Make the decision.”
The allegation was supposed to be that supermarkets are ripping off customers because the price per-item can sometimes work out higher in a larger pack than for a smaller amount, when a shopper would probably expect it to be cheaper.
The news this week (21.4.15) was; the consumers’ group Which? is making a ‘super-complaint’ to the regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority, over ‘larger pack, better value’ and other retail pricing practices they say are confusing.
The CBI’s Great Business Debate is all about public confidence in business and we recognise absolutely that people’s experience as consumers - especially on value for money — has a big influence on their wider trust in business (something they told us very clearly when we asked, via Which? for their views). And that’s not just in the shops.
In our Great Business Debate event Can Consumers Trust Business? we also discussed banking, telecoms and energy. If you listen to our highlights podcast you’ll hear Which? boss Richard Lloyd say: “In lots of essential markets it’s not the case that price is presented sensibly to customers.” But you’ll also hear the CBI’s Katja Hall agreeing that: “Customers should have the information they need to vote with their wallets.”
In some of those sectors there is more that can be done to make it easier for people to compare and switch but, during my years as a spokesman for the retail industry, I was always convinced that the unit prices — price per jar, per 100 grams etc — displayed on shelves do give customers the facts they need to judge value and swap between products and stores.
Sure, if you looked hard enough among the 40 – 50,000 products and offers in every large supermarket you would find a few inconsistencies but customers aren’t stupid and supermarkets know they won’t win the loyalty they want with any systematic attempt to mislead.
Richard Dodd is Media Manager for the CBI’s Great Business Debate and was previously Head of Media & Campaigns at the British Retail Consortium