Trading Standards investigations in 24 Glasgow shops have revealed pricing problems which could leave customers out of pocket.
Glasgow City Council's Trading Standards officers checked the prices of over 1000 everyday items as part of a national campaign to detect misleading or non-existent pricing in stores.
As well as visually inspecting products and store shelves during the spot checks, the Trading Standards team also had items scanned at the tills to check if the prices which would have been charged matched those on display. The investigation uncovered discrepancies on a wide variety of items ranging from gravy granules to teabags, cakes, vapes, pasta, coffee and washing powder.
In one store, 80 out of 100 items checked had no prices on them and in one instance, officers would have been charged 60p more for coffee at the checkout than the price displayed on the shelf. In another shop, a bottle of wine was priced at £9.99 on the shelf edge, but scanned at £11.99 at the till.
As a result of the unannounced visits, several shop managers were served with notices requiring all goods to have prices on them and other outlets were given verbal advice to improve their pricing ahead of return visits.
Councillor Ruairi Kelly, Glasgow Convener for Neighbourhood Services and Assets, said: "Investigations like this by Trading Standards are crucial to ensure shops are fulfilling their obligations to price products clearly and in line with the law. This work is about protecting consumers and the team uncovered some shocking pricing practices in a number of Glasgow stores. The findings are particularly worrying at a time when inflation is so high and people are struggling to put food on the table.
"Retailers large and small have a legal obligation to price products correctly and give people the information they need to easily compare prices. The appalling failures revealed by this undercover investigation are particularly galling given the current cost of living crisis facing families in the city and across the country as a whole."
The work in Glasgow was part of a nationwide retail pricing investigation organised by SCOTSS (Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland). Officers in 22 councils carried out similar investigations in their local authority areas. In Glasgow, the spot-checks were carried out in supermarkets and smaller stores between November and December 2022.
Local authority Trading Standards are responsible for enforcing laws that ensure accurate pricing for consumers, such as the Price Marking Order 2004 and The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. The Price Marking Order 2004 requires that where goods are offered for retail sale, the selling and, where appropriate, the unit price, must be given in writing. They require the selling price to be inclusive of VAT, unambiguous, easily identifiable, and clearly legible.
The SCOTSS project set out to identify where goods in shops were wrongly priced or not priced at all, and protect consumers from detriment. Officers checked that goods on shelves were priced as required, that the price charged at the till was the same as the marked price and that Unit Prices were marked where required (these allow shoppers to compare the price of similar products).
Officers across Scotland carried out 118 visits to national supermarket chains, and 228 visits to small or medium sized stores, with a total of over 30,000 products checked in terms of price marking and over 7000 in terms of unit pricing. In addition, over 9000 products were tested 'at the till' in terms of misleading pricing. The majority of retailers, large and small, understand the requirements of pricing law and were found to provide consumers with the correct price and unit price indications, and charged the indicated price at the check-out. However, issues were still identified, and Trading Standards colleagues are working with the retailers concerned to address them.
In national chains over 4% of goods were not priced at all and 6.5% of products had incorrect unit pricing. In addition, 3.7% of products were wrongly charged at the checkout and 71% of these were to the detriment of the consumer. For medium and smaller stores the situation was worse, over 14% were not priced properly, and 8.6% of unit pricing information was wrong or missing. Almost 10% of products were incorrectly charged at the checkout, with again 70% to the detriment of the consumer. With food prices continuing to rise, it is important that consumers are charged the correct price, and that the price is correctly indicated so that consumers can easily compare prices across stores in a competitive marketplace. Trading Standards is ideally placed to not only protect consumers against detriment through overcharging but to also support local businesses through advice and intervention where necessary.
David MacKenzie, Chair of SCOTSS explained: "Transparency in pricing is at the heart of fair trade in goods and is a core issue for Trading Standards teams across Scotland, making sure that consumers pay the correct price for their purchases and that businesses are diligent in presenting goods for sale accurately and legally. With the current cost of living crisis, it is even more important that the processes and systems that should be in place are working properly and that consumers pay the correct amount for their shopping. My advice to shoppers is always check prices carefully when in store and make sure you have been properly charged at the till." He continued: "SCOTSS works very closely with colleagues in local council Trading Standards across Scotland, and this is an excellent example of local authority officers working together to ensure the market is working properly and fairly. Officers are there not only to protect consumers but also to help and support businesses."