Are you being overcharged at the supermarket?

When Rachael Wilson was charged more than advertised for soap, the extra $1.50 was a nuisance but it was the justification that really got her goat.

"I'd bought it on the wrong date," this sharp-eyed shopper explains.

Her local Countdown store had labelled the product at a discount, but in very fine print at the bottom of the shelf sticker were the figures seven and 11.

That turned out to be a date, the next day's date, when the discount promotion actually began.

The staffer refused to honour that a day early for a bemused Mrs Wilson.

"I said why's the tag there and she said 'oh we always do that, put the tags out on the Sunday for the Monday'. I said it was misleading."

A spokesperson for Countdown has since apologised, saying the date range on the bottom of the ticket is mainly for staff to check how long the ticket should be on the shelf for.

"It is not our policy to put promotional tickets up before a promotion starts and our standard procedures are designed to make sure this doesn’t happen."

It's reminded staff at that store of its policy, but the Commerce Commission says it's had two other similar complaints about Countdown in the past 12 months. It has also had five regarding scales and weights that appear to be off.

None of these have resulted in an investigation, although the Commerce Commission says it has been engaging with supermarkets about compliance with the Fair Trading Act.

The Commerce Commission told Fair Go on average it receives an enquiry a day - 377 in the past 12 months - about supermarket issues, but has only launched one supermarket prosecution in the past 15 years.

That one case saw the company that owns Pak'N'Save Mangere fined $78,000 in 2020 after pleading guilty to six charges under the Fair Trading Act, for pricing errors that weren't immediately fixed after mystery shoppers pointed them out.

"It doesn't matter whether it was deliberate or an accident; if it's showing one price on the shelf and they're trying to charge you another price, that is a misrepresentation," says associate professor Alex Sims, an expert in commercial law at Auckland University's School of Business.

Countdown says its policy is to offer customers their money back if they're charged more at the checkout than the price on the shelf - and they can keep the item as well, with some conditions.

Sims says that the small amounts involved mean it's often not worth people's time and money, leaving it to authorities like the Commerce Commission, which prefer to educate and engage with businesses rather than enforce the law.

So, stay alert in the aisles, speak up politely at the checkout if you think there's something amiss and remind them of their promises if you need to.

Countdown explains refund policy

For clarity, Countdown has also spelled out to Fair Go and to consumers how it refunds for a pricing issue.

If any product is charged at a higher price than stated on the current shelf ticket/label and the transaction has been completed the following will apply:

  • Countdown will refund the price paid and the customer may keep the product free of charge.
  • Multiple of the same product: Countdown will refund the first product and the customer may keep this first product free of charge. A refund will also be given for the difference between the current shelf price and the charged price for the balance of the products.
  • If a checkout operator error has occurred during the transaction, only the difference between the correct price and incorrect price will be refunded.

Examples of errors are:

  • Incorrect product identified by operator.
  • Multiple scanning.
  • Processing a different product to the one being purchased e.g. sauce mix instead of gravy mix.
  • Keying the wrong price or multiple price e.g. 30 instead of three.
  • Reduced to clear label did not scan.


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