Shoppers overcharged at convenience stores, trading watchdog finds

A review by the Competition and Markets Authority has found widespread pricing irregularities at smaller grocery retailers across England and Wales, resulting in many customers being overcharged at the till.

The CMA inspected 139 grocery stores including major supermarket chains, convenience stores branded under "symbol" names like Spar and Costcutter, as well as independent grocers. By reviewing product pricing on shelves versus what was charged at checkout, the regulator uncovered an alarming number of inaccuracies and missing price labels.

While only 4.2 per cent of products at large supermarkets had pricing issues, a much higher 14.4 per cent did at symbol convenience stores. Some 7.8 per cent of products were mispriced at independent grocers as well. In total, 60 per cent of the errors caused shoppers to overpay.

The findings come at a particularly painful time for consumers, with double-digit food inflation straining household budgets.

"It's important shoppers can make informed choices based on accurate information, especially when people are looking to save money," said George Lusty, the interim consumer chief at the CMA.

The results align with longstanding complaints from consumer groups about inconsistent pricing at smaller retailers lacking the sophisticated labeling systems of major chains. A 2021 survey by consumer group Which? found nearly one in four products had missing or incorrect price labels at convenience stores.

While pricing laws have been on the books for decades, the CMA review suggests lax enforcement and lack of centralised governance leaves ample room for pricing failures in the highly fragmented convenience sector.

In response, the CMA published new guidance for retailers on properly displaying accurate prices. It urged trade groups representing independent grocers and convenience store franchisees to better educate their members. Failure to uphold pricing rules can draw fines and other enforcement actions, it added.

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