A major change in supermarket aisles at Woolworths and Coles have left some customers worried they could be more easily “duped” about prices.
Shoppers have voiced their concerns about the supermarket giants misleading them on discounts when lifting a “special” price tag only to find a price that doesn’t add up.
For example, in Coles a customer showed a yellow half-price label advertising a pack of Mount Franklin sparkling water for $9.50, down from $19. However, the tag below showed the price was $16.10. While in Woolworths, a shopper found a bottle of Banana Boat sunscreen advertised as half price at $11, down from $22, when the tag underneath showed it had cost $14.70.
Both supermarkets have blamed the phenomenon on human error, with Woolworths saying a new swap to electronic tags could be the answer. But some shoppers have raised concerns that these new labels mean they can’t go back and check previous prices.
“Woolworths has switched to digital. So now they can dupe us and we can’t prove it,” one person said.
“No more looking at the previous price tags and finding out their current 'special price' is more than what the previous price is,” another noted.
Will it mean customers can be “duped”?
Yahoo Finance spoke to two experts who were at odds over the issue.
Retail expert Gary Mortimer said errors were “less likely to occur on electronic price labels because the prices are set centrally and then dispersed to stores”.
“One of the challenges of paper-based tickets was that, in a store with thousands and thousands of items, often a ticket may remain or may be removed. That’s often where you get price confusion,” Mortimer said.
Australia Institute senior economist Matt Grudnoff said there was a risk electronic labels could “create the sort of situation where it is harder to look back” on price changes.
“I’d be interested to know how often [ticketing errors are] happening,” Grudnoff told Yahoo Finance. “If people do see a pattern, then that’s something for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
“It may be an error but if it is occurring regularly then that’s something that we should probably look into and ask Coles and Woolies to please explain.”
Yahoo Finance asked both Coles and Woolworths how many human errors they had recorded, but neither could disclose a number.
Grudnoff encouraged shoppers to report any examples of misleading and deceptive advertising to ACCC.
Last month, the ACCC flagged it was closely considering reports from consumers alleging false or misleading “was/now” or other pricing “specials” advertised by the supermarket. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also announced a separate, formal investigation by consumer watchdog just last week.
What are the benefits of paperless tickets?
The Australian supermarkets are not the only ones using electronic tickets. Mortimer said there had been a global shift away from paper-based tickets towards LED or electronic shelf tickets.
“The reasons for that is it reduces the amount of consumption of paper, it reduces the amount of print that is required and it also expedites shelf price changeovers,” Mortimer said.
Woolworths began testing the electronic labels in 2021 and has now installed nearly 5.5 million of the labels across more than 250 of its stores. Meanwhile, Coles said it was trialling electronic tickets in some stores.
“Electronic shelf labels are designed to replace paper tickets in-store, reducing the burden on our store teams who would otherwise be manually adding and removing hundreds of promotional tickets,” a Woolworths spokesperson told Yahoo Finance.
Along with reducing the amount of paper printed, the supermarket giant said the electronic labels had resulted in a “reduction in errors”.