Money and Markets

The price at the till not the price advertised? You can score at PnP and Woolworths for spotting mistakes

Business Insider SA
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA ? JULY 03: The biodegradab
Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais
  • Discrepancies between advertised prices, and the amount shoppers are charged at tills, is a common complaint at South African stores.
  • If you keep an eye on your "on-special" and advertised groceries and you notice a discrepancy, you might be in for a bigger discount than you expected.
  • At the very least, shoppers can usually legally demand to only pay the lower, discounted price - even if it was an error.
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Discrepancies between advertised prices, and the amount shoppers are charged at tills, is a common complaint at South African stores.  

But if you keep an eye on your "on-special" and advertised groceries as they move through the checkout, and you notice a discrepancy, you might be in for a bigger discount than you expected.  

At the very least, even if the store doesn’t have a specific bonus policy in place, shoppers can usually legally demand to only pay the lower, discounted price - even if it was an error.  

But to avoid shopper backlash, most South African supermarkets now also offer eagle-eyed shoppers some type of bonus compensation if they’ve been charged more than the on-shelf price - but the onus is still on you to identity this and bring it to a manager’s attention. 

This is often more difficult than it seems. All leading supermarkets now predominantly use barcodes, rather than individual price tags, and some discounts do not display immediately on in-store point of sale machines. Often, it requires a careful examination of the till slip to keep track of the prices charged for individual goods. 

Because of this, shoppers often only notice that they didn’t receive the promised discount after leaving the store - which renders returning to request the advertised price an added burden, and, in some cases, voids any kind of additional compensation. 

Consumer feedback website HelloPeter has several comments from angry shoppers who’ve been "tricked" by this issue.  

"The tills are not set to charge the correct price," one shopper complained about Pick n Pay. "In the often rush of checkout this is not noticed until you get home… Happens far too often to be a coincidence."

The specials themselves are not where the problem lies - they’re usually along the lines of, buy two for the price of one, or buy two, get a discount off both. It’s an age-old retail trick designed to get you to add more to your trolley, or sometimes for supermarkets to move greater volumes of items approaching their sell-by date. 

But in some cases, the discounts advertised on the products or shelves do not ring up as promised, and shoppers who don’t notice end up paying full price for both items. 

According to the supermarkets, this is less a conspiracy to get shoppers to pay more, and more likely a breakdown in communication between the people who place the physical sticker advertisements on the products and shelves, and those who update the prices on the point of sale systems. 

According to a spokesperson for Shoprite, "Such price discrepancies can occur either through human error - where an incorrect price is reflected on an advertisement - or discipline issues where PI labels and price tickets are not updated on shelf immediately when a price change takes effect in the system." 

Regardless of the reason, unless it is an obvious error, like a zero left off the end of the price of a motor vehicle, South Africa’s Consumer Protection Act is on the side of the shopper.  

According to the Consumer Goods and Services Ombud, "A supplier must not require a consumer to pay a price for any goods or services higher than the displayed price for those goods or services." 

In other words, when there’s a discrepancy, shoppers can demand to pay the lowest price advertised. 

Although the Consumer Protection Act does not state exactly when shoppers must point out this discrepancy, the Ombud considers the sale concluded when the shopper places the item on the checkout counter. 

The case law states that “The conclusion of the sale happens when, where appropriate, the consumer takes the selected goods out of the trolley or basket and places them on the counter. By so doing, the consumer is tacitly communicating, 'I accept these goods at the prices displayed on or next to them'". 

After bringing the issue to the attention of the store, it must - at the very least - only charge you the lower amount. But some supermarkets take it a bit further - provided you ask a manager to honour the store’s specific incorrect pricing policy. 

Here's what the policy of some retailers is:

Shoprite Group (Including Checkers) 

a shoprite storefront
A Shoprite store. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Shoprite and its various stores have no bonus compensation - but they will honour the terms laid out in the Consumer Protection Act. 

The new Checkers
The new Checkers "FreshX concept" store in Sandton City Mall (James de Villiers, Business Insider South Africa)
According to a Shoprite spokesperson, "when there is a discrepancy between the price reflected at the till and that which is printed on a product PI label or in an advertisement or leaflet, customers will be offered the product at the lowest of the two prices, unless it is an inadvertent and obvious pricing error". 

Pick n Pay 

Pick n Pay offers a "Double the difference" promotion in instances that an item scans at a higher price than displayed on shelf.  

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA â?? JULY 03: The biodegrad
Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Jaco Marais

According to the supermarket group, "Pick n Pay will give you the item at the marked price, plus double the difference off the first item and the subsequent items at the lower price." 

Only the first item is given double the difference back, and the balance of products at the lower price. If double the difference is more than the product, the customer gets the product for free.  

The policy does not apply to some products - notably tobacco and tobacco-related products, and baby formula (0-36 months). The supermarket group also "reserves the right, at any time, to exempt certain additional products from double the difference in order to comply with laws and regulations". 

The policy is only applicable at the time of purchase, and so shoppers must bring it to the attention of staff immediately.  


A Woolworths' store (supplied)
A Woolworths' store (supplied)

Woolworths has a 'wrong price policy'. According to a spokesperson, "when a price discrepancy exists between the price displayed or advertised or the product label price is lower than the price on the Point of Sale system, the customer will be given the first product for free and any additional same product will be charged at the lower price".

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