The sharp rise in Covid-19 cases is once again forcing consumers to stay at home and even purchase basic necessities like fruits and vegetables in the safety of their homes
The sharp rise in Covid-19 cases is once again forcing consumers to stay at home and even purchase everyday essentials like fruits and vegetables from the safety of their homes. This time, however, the physical stores are well prepared to face competition from the online stores and offer to deliver these products to your doorstep at competitive prices. And they use whatsapp and text messaging to promote their business. This certainly gives consumers more choice, but on the other hand, the resulting competition also fosters unfair and deceptive practices that are contrary to the interests of consumers.
Competition is more evident on the price front, with each of them wanting to make consumers feel like their price is the lowest, without actually reducing the price, but making hyperbolic claims such as “Steep Price Drop”, “Lowest Price” and “Important discounts”. And almost all of them use exaggerated “benchmarks” to achieve their goal. Some, for example, display an imaginary “Maximum Retail Price” (MRP) of vegetables to show how much lower their prices are. For example, the price of the carrot at ??25 the kilogram was compared to an MRP of ??58 to show that there was a saving of 57 percent or ??33 per kilo! Now where did this MRP of ??58 come from? The maximum retail price is the manufacturer’s suggested price for prepackaged products, as required by the rules of legal metrology (packaged products). So who set the MRP for fresh and unpackaged vegetables? Obviously, the MRP is the premium price concocted by the retailer to give consumers the impression that they are getting a discount!
Even more shocking was the retailer who called for a “price cut” on tomatoes. Its benchmark price, to indicate the massive drop in prices, was ??104. Tomato prices increased sharply at the end of September 2021 due to unusual rains and the resulting shortage. But they subsequently came down with new arrivals on the market and according to the Union’s Consumer Affairs Ministry on December 14 their prices had fallen to around ??55 and to ??47.52 by Dec. 21. So on a day when tomatoes cost around ??38 to ??45 per kilo, the retailer claimed to have reduced the price of ??104 to ??45!
“Strike price” is another method many of them use to display price drops. An imaginary inflated price is crossed out or crossed out to indicate that it is the actual price and to show how much the retailer has reduced the price! For example, the price of the mushroom at ??72 for 180 g has been written off and the sale price has been indicated as ??36, giving the impression that the seller was offering mushrooms at a price well below the market price! These are all unfair business practices and the consumer protection regulator, the Central Consumer Protection Authority established under the Consumer Protection Law of 2019, will have to crack down on these deceptive prices and protect consumers.
Another roundabout method adopted by some retailers is to quote prices for non-standard weights or odd weights usually not used for the purchase of vegetables and fruit. For example, the price of the tomato is announced at 900 g, that of the brinjal at 450 g, the currant at 225 g and the mushrooms at 180 g! Specifying prices for such varying weights not only confuses consumers, but also makes it almost impossible to compare prices with other outlets. The solution therefore consists in making the unit price compulsory for vegetables and fruits sold online as well as for any advertising or communication relating to their sale, made through electronic media. This can be done through an amendment to e-commerce rules and would go a long way in protecting consumers from unethical sales practices, especially in these times of Covid.