Consumer NZ slams supermarkets after over 300 'dodgy' specials discovered

Consumer NZ has hit out at supermarkets saying Kiwis can't trust them to provide fair price representations after over 300 'dodgy' deals were discovered. 

Among the examples were 78 specials which, on closer inspection, were not an opportunity to save, 54 instances of customers being charged more than the shelf price and 18 dodgy multi-buys - where the products would've been cheaper if they were bought individually. 

It comes after the watchdog, in September, asked Kiwis for help to call out misleading pricing. 

Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy told AM on Thursday the findings show Kiwis can't rely on supermarkets to provide fair price representations. 

"It is really disappointing to see, your previous guests talked about the amount of work that's gone on by the Government and others in the supermarket sector and one of the core tenants of all of that work was New Zealanders aren't able to rely on price representations by supermarkets," Duffy told AM. 

"I guess this quick snapshot of what's going on out there really underlines the fact that actually nothing has changed and we're still seeing non-genuine price representations by the supermarkets."

But Foodstuffs, who owns New World, Pak'nSave and Four Square, told AM they were only aware of seven instances, not hundreds, and they were all fixed.

Duffy said Consumer NZ sent Foodstuffs seven examples to show that "dodgy" specials are occurring. 

"We've provided them with seven examples to represent the broader body of complaints that we have received," Duffy said.

"So, yes, Foodstuffs has come back to us as well and said they're not seeing the volume of complaints from their customers therefore, they don't, I'm paraphrasing here, see an issue here. 

"We would argue that the volume of complaints we've received negates that."

Duffy said there are "real barriers" facing customers trying to get a refund when they notice supermarkets have overcharged them for an item.

"It's a real pain to have to go back to the supermarket once you've got home, check your bill, go and argue that actually the peaches were charged out at $0.05 a kilo more expensive than what the shelf price said, get a refund, then head back home. There is a real barrier here to consumers actually complaining," Duffy explained. 

Duffy also hit out at supermarkets for not rectifying their mistakes, once they've been told about them, and refunding customers who have been charged the wrong price.

"Foodstuffs in particular, hoover up data through their New World brands, through their loyalty schemes, so they know when they receive one complaint from a consumer saying the till price is incorrect on baked beans or whatever the product might be, they know through the data ... who else has purchased those products at those incorrect prices," he said.

"We don't see them taking action to contact those people whose details they have to issue refunds to them, and we think they should be doing that." 

But Foodstuffs argues Consumer NZ hasn't been transparent and forthcoming with information on this.  

"I'm not sure what more Foodstuffs would want. We've provided them with samples showing that these pricing errors, mistakes, this misleading conduct are occurring in the supermarkets, and we've asked them what they're doing to rectify the issue," he said. 

"I would turn that back on Foodstuffs and say that it's really not fair to New Zealanders to be minimising the scale of this problem." 

The Government announced last year they would be establishing a grocery commissioner to ensure fair play in the sector. 

Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy.
Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy. Photo credit: AM

Foodstuffs told AM in a statement if a mistake has been made they work quickly to put it right. 

"We will always refund customers where they have been incorrectly charged. We've already made significant progress in simplifying our pricing in promotions across our brands, making them easier to understand," Foodstuffs told AM. 

Labour MP Michael Wood told AM Kiwis should expect fair and transparent prices at the supermarket. 

"We're putting measures in place to promote greater competition in the sector as well. So there is a really robust package that's coming here that will ensure people get a fairer deal at the checkout," Wood told AM. 

National MP Paul Goldsmith, who was appearing alongside Wood, told AM he's seen many examples of dodge specials at the supermarkets.

"I go there (supermarket) all the time ... I'm always looking for specials and I've seen many examples of things that are so-called on special but are more expensive than they normally are and the ultimate solution to it is more competition," Goldsmith said.  

"You can regulate, you can do all these things, but when it comes to competition, the most important thing is to remove barriers to new entrants coming into the market, so you have more players and that should be the real focus of any Government policy."

Watch the full interview with Jon Duffy in the video above.