Pricing of goods: shop around for best deals
Traders are free to set prices of products or services they offer for sale. This means that on the market consumers may find the same products or services offered at different prices. So, it is our responsibility to shop around and compare prices to ensure we get the best value for money. Once a product or service is purchased, consumers cannot cancel the sale because they found the same product or service at a lower price somewhere else.
Even though sellers are free to set their own prices, when selling products they are legally obliged to clearly indicate with a price the products they sell – to help consumers freely compare prices and to make informed buying decisions. Appropriate price indication ensures that consumers are able to compare prices between different brands and also other outlets.
As a general rule, the Price Indication Regulations stipulate that all goods displayed for sale must have their prices indicated clearly and accurately. The same rule applies to items displayed in shop windows. The regulations state that when more than one item of the same kind, size, type or brand is displayed, it is sufficient for the seller to show the price on just one of these items or near them, such as on the shelf where the item is displayed or on a price list.
The price indicated must be the final price charged at the cashpoint. If the ‘real’ price is more than the displayed price, such a practice would be considered misleading and consumers may insist to pay the displayed price.
The same rule applies to products sold at a discounted price. It is not enough to display the percentage discount. If it is impossible for retailers to change each price tag, they must at least display lists of prices throughout the retail outlet. The law also provides that prices are displayed in euros and include VAT and any other taxes or charges.
Retailers are also legally obliged to indicate two prices on goods sold by unit weight or volume. One of these prices should display the actual price for a given quantity of the good, such as 100g of cheese. The other price should be the unit price that indicates the price of one kilo, one litre, one metre or one cubic metre of the good.
All goods displayed for sale must have an indicated price
Consumers need these two prices because when they buy goods by weight or volume, it is only by comparing unit prices of different brands of products that they can really compare brands. This rule also applies to pre-packed goods in pre-established or variable quantities. With regard to pre-packaged solid products presented in a liquid medium, the price per unit shall refer to the weight of the solid good without the liquid in which it is contained. The unit price may be indicated in a smaller font than the actual selling price, but must still be clearly legible. Outlets that measure less than 200 square metres are exempted from unit pricing, as well as products that weigh less than 50g or 50ml.
It is not obligatory for products shown in adverts to include a selling price, unless the advert is inviting consumers to buy goods by distance sale, such as the internet, phone or mail order.
The Price Indication Regulations also do not apply to the sale of works of art or antiques and to goods supplied with services, such as a hairdresser or beautician. Goods supplied for the purpose of reselling or sold at an auction are also exempt from these regulations.
As to services, the service provider is not legally obliged to display a price list. However, to avoid unnecessary complaints and disputes, consumers should be properly informed of the total cost of the service, including taxes, before it is carried out by the trader. Consumers must also ask for a quotation before purchasing a service to avoid unpleasant surprises.
When prices are not properly displayed, consumers may file a report to the Enforcement Directorate within the Office for Consumer Affairs by calling Freephone 8007 4400 or sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Violation of the Price Indication Regulations amounts to an offence and, if found guilty, traders are fined.
Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.