Most supermarket shoppers have become jaded by constant specials, high prices and confusing “special” labels, according to Consumer NZ’s latest survey.
The online survey of 1030 people, aged 18 years and older, was carried out in February.
Seven out of 10 respondents said supermarket “specials” had become so common that they questioned whether purported savings were genuine, the survey found.
Supermarkets are the subject of a Commerce Commission market study examining whether shoppers are well served by the grocery duopoly.
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Consumer NZ said it would provide the results of its survey to the commission for the market study.
Jessica Wilson, Consumer NZ head of research, said that the survey reflected complaints the watchdog had received for a number of years.
“We have been fielding complaints from consumers for some years about confusing supermarket prices, and complaints about supermarket pricing promotions with shoppers questioning whether the discounts being advertised were actually real.”
According to the survey, 81 per cent of shoppers said supermarket prices were too high, 74 per cent said specials had become so common they weren’t sure the savings were genuine, and 63 per cent agreed “special” price labels could be confusing, making it difficult to work out the actual savings.
“Shoppers are telling us that what they are seeing are frequent specials being advertised, they are often seeing products being advertised with specials that, when they go to find those specials in-store they are not available,” Wilson said.
“They are also finding that on occasion they are being charged more at the checkout than is being advertised on the shelf label.”
In the past two years, 66 per cent of survey respondents found an advertised special was out of stock when they went into the store, 46 per cent said they had been charged more at the checkout than the price shown on the shelf label and 45 per cent had noticed an error on their receipt that meant they had been overcharged.
A significant proportion of shoppers were also charged higher prices because they did not belong to the stores’ loyalty programs.
Thirty-one per cent said they had missed out on getting an advertised special price because they did not have the supermarket’s loyalty card.
Consumer NZ chief executive Jon Duffy said loyalty programs were heavily promoted, but there were good reasons why consumers chose not to sign up, not least because they did not want to share their personal data with the supermarkets,
Terms and conditions of loyalty programs allowed supermarkets to collect information about shoppers and their purchasing preferences, he said.
While this information was gold for the stores, the benefits for consumers were questionable, he said.
Wilson said there needed to be robust price scrutiny of the sector and legislation to improve competitiveness in the market.
“It’s an incredibly concentrated market, there is little competition and, when you have a situation like that you really need strong monitoring and enforcement, and meaningful penalties when the stores aren’t playing fair.”
A Countdown spokeswoman said the company regularly carried out broad and “statistically relevant research” with customers to make sure they understood the supermarket’s prices.
“While we haven’t read the full Consumer NZ research yet, we’ll look at their findings to understand any concerns Kiwi consumers may have,” she said.
“It’s worth noting that customers don’t need to register a OneCard to be able to access OneCard offers. These are available to anyone with a OneCard, registered or not. ”
Foodstuffs, the cooperative behind Pak n ‘Save, New World and Four Square, has been approached for comment.