Can a store charge more than its website? Plus other questions about pricing.

When is a price fair? It’s a question I’m often asked in a variety of incarnations. The problem with it is it presupposes that prices need to be fair – generally in the UK fairness is about communication and transparency rather than the actual rate you pay. Yet I want to take a few minutes and bash out a blog to answer some of the most common questions.

  1. Can a store charge more than its website?
    Quite simply, yes. We don’t have price regulation in the UK – there is nothing obliging a store to homogenise pricing over its various outlets. As long as it is clear in its pricing and not misleading, it could charge £1 for a toothbrush online and £20 in store.

    Obviously, though, if it has a click and collect service this would be slightly ridiculous – but it isn’t impossible.

  2. Can a supermarket charge more in its smaller or express stores than in its main supermarkets?
    Again it’s a yes. These are just a different format of store. Supermarkets often argue express stores are more expensive due to a ‘convenience premium’, or that it is costlier to keep them stocked. Whether the economics of that add up or not is irrelevant, they can say what they like and price what they like.

    Let’s remember we live in a world where you’ll often find a 500ml bottle of soft drink that can cost more than a two-litre bottle due to ‘convenience pricing’.

  3. Can a store charge different amounts in different stores?
    As you’re probably realising by now, this one is a yes too. And in fact, here there’s an added complication as some stores of the same name and the same brand may actually be franchise operations that have different ownership. This is one of the reasons why you may sometimes be turned down for a refund or return if you go to a different branch.

    The only issue here could be if a store was advertising a promotion and indicated it could be obtained from all of its branches – that could be a breach of ASA rules.

  4. If a store has mispriced an item can I get it for that price?
    Many believe if they see an item underpriced in store, they should pounce, and grab it. Well that’s probably true as some stores will sell it to you at the mispriced amount – however if they refuse to, you don’t have any rights. Stores don’t have to sell any of their goods – they can simply say “no sale”.

    However, if you were to alert it to a pricing error and then it didn’t correct it, and kept advertising the item at that rate, report it to Trading Standards as it’s not following consumer protection regulations.

    There is a silver lining to this – just because something does have a price tag on, doesn’t mean that price is fixed. So if you want to pay less, ask a store, “Can I give you less for it?” – as it’s an open door to haggling (see haggling on the high street tips and how to haggle with Sky, AA, Virgin etc).

    If you have any other questions on pricing rights post them below, and I’ll answer them in a future blog.