Saturday, November 29, 2008

Unit Pricing Conspiracy

I’ve been a big fan of the unit pricing labels that were introduced in US supermarkets about 30 years ago. However, sometimes retailers deliberately post this information in obscure measurements. For example, toilet paper is often shown with the price per square foot, rather than the price per sheet, forcing consumers to do more complex math to figure out the best deal. Most people will simply buy the lowest cost package.

The thing that bothers me about unit pricing labels is whether or not I can trust them. Suppose, for example, that an unscrupulous retailer got a great deal on a premium brand of macaroni, and bought more of it than will fit on the shelves. It has to be sold quickly to clear out the excess stock in the back of the store before the fire marshal drops by and discovers that it’s stacked in front of the fire exit.

So the retailer fraudulently lowers the unit cost of the premium macaroni, even though the package cost is properly displayed. Consumers comparing the unit prices will buy the product with lower unit cost, not bothering to check the math. Of course I had no evidence to prove that such shenanigans take place. Until yesterday.

In my local major chain supermarket, I discovered two products, side by side: Scotch Brite Multi Purpose Scrub Sponges and Scotch Brite Heavy Duty Scrub Sponges. Each product was sold in a package containing three sponges. The package cost was identical for each product - $2.89.

I’m sorry about the poor quality of these photos, but as you can see if you look closely, the unit cost on each product is different: 96.33 cents (correct) for the Multi Purpose and 72.25 cents (wrong) for the Heavy Duty.



I suppose it could be a simple mistake. After all, the Heavy Duty sponges would cost 72.25 cents apiece if there were four in a package, so maybe somebody just made a keystroke error. But it’s also possible that the fire exits are blocked with Heavy Duty sponges.

1 comment:

michael said...

This is Exactly why you must vote for me for President King. This type of nonsense will not be abided in my administration.