Going into a shop, especially if you have children, can sometimes be an overwhelming experience, even more so if you are unfamiliar with the products on offer. If a consumer is approaching a purchase from a position of vulnerability – as we all do from time to time – this is particularly true.
Recently I went into London to visit The National Gallery with my nine-year-old boy wonder, Achilles. Walking through Piccadilly Circus, he spotted Fortnite Figure Pouches on a rotary display stand. “Please mummy, can I have one, you can take it out of my savings?!” he pleads excitedly. I nod in his direction and tell him to check how much they cost. Unable to find a price, he picks one up and runs into the shop.
He re-emerges all deflated: “It’s probably a no, it’s £15,” he states. Now he’s got my interest. £15, for something I have never paid more than £5 for?!
In an ideal world, it wouldn’t have been necessary for Achilles to ask at all, as the price would have already been clearly and accurately displayed on the item in question.
Smelling a rat, I approached the shopkeeper myself with the pouch and asked for the price – only to be told it would cost £10.
So, the shopkeeper had told Achilles that the item was £15 – a price that even a nine-year-old would rightly balk at – but told me £10.
Treating pricing like a spin-the-wheel game show is no way to run a business; it is unfair, it stigmatises certain types of consumers, it undermines confidence and, last but by no means least, it goes against that most beloved of all Trading Standards tools, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs).
As UK consumers face the steepest rise in the cost of living for decades, and with the country still in the grip of the tumultuous COVID-19 pandemic, it has never been more important that they are able to spend their hard-earned cash with confidence that they are being charged as much, or as little, as the next person – no matter who they are.
Without that most basic of retail principles, there is a real risk that shoppers could be penalised for how old they are, how they dress, their race, their gender, or a whole host of other things. It is important for consumers, for businesses, and for fair play itself that we live in a country where trading standards protects us from such unscrupulous practices.