Under consumer law, you must display the ‘prior price’ when you mark a product as on sale or promotion. You must also base any discounts, such as an amount or a percentage off, on this prior price. The prior price should be no higher than the lowest price that an item has been on sale for in the 30 days before a promotion starts.
For example, if a laptop is marked as ‘was €700 now €500’ then the business must not have had that laptop on sale for less than €700 in the 30 days before the promotion began.
Prior pricing rules are clearly set out in law. You can read our full guide to the Pricing Indications Directive to explain this in more detail.
The price you give consumers must be the total price, and include taxes. There mustn’t be any hidden extras on top of that again, such as VAT or other taxes.
One exception to the tax inclusive rule is businesses such as wholesalers that sell goods intended solely for other business customers. These trade-only type businesses are allowed to display prices that exclude the VAT element.
Shops can and often do make an honest mistake about the prices they display. A common example would be where some price indications are wrong and the marked price is lower than the price charged at the till.
In such circumstances the customer has the choice whether to purchase the item at the higher price, or decline the purchase. There is no obligation on the shop to offer the item at the lower price. While it is desirable that the matter is satisfactorily resolved with the consumer, they still have the option of making a complaint to the CCPC in relation to the misleading price.
Products behind the counter
If you have products for sale behind a counter or away from immediate access by the consumer, you may use shelf stickers, wall charts or notices, or catalogues to display the prices.
The key thing is to show prices that can be clearly related to the goods being offered for sale.
Price display orders
Certain shops and services have specific obligations in terms of how they display their prices. These include:
- Licensed premises
- Restaurants and cafes
- Petrol stations
- Hairdressers and barbers
Price display orders make it mandatory for these types of business to display prices in a particular way so that consumers can easily compare prices without committing themselves to purchasing in that premises.
If you operate one of these businesses, check our guide for it to see your price display obligations.
Prices in adverts and shop displays
You don’t have to give selling prices in your advertisements. But if you do give one you must show a unit price too (if unit pricing rules apply to that product in your shop).
Windows and similar displays which contain products that are actually removed and sold to consumers, (for example in a baker’s shop) must display selling prices and where relevant unit prices near the products.
But if you have a window display which doesn’t contain products that are removed and sold to consumers, you can clearly mark it as being for the purpose of “display only”. Under the rules the display would be regarded as purely promotional, and would be equivalent to an advertisement.
Some products are covered by “unit pricing” rules. Many products sold by groceries, supermarkets and shops are sold by weight, volume or measure, and unit pricing means you must display not only the product’s actual selling price, but its unit price too. Where a product is sold loose by weight (eg, loose mince, loose sweets), only the unit price can be displayed.
The unit price is the price for a given quantity of the product (e.g. the price for a litre or kilo of the product). For some goods the unit of quantity is different, for example the unit of quantity for wine is 75cl.
Under the law you have to display both the selling price and the unit price on or near to the item. In practice this would be on the same shelf-edge label, with the selling price in the larger font and the unit price underneath.
Exemptions to unit pricing
There are certain exceptions to the unit pricing rule:
- Where the selling price is not related to the quantity of that product being offered for sale. Examples would be fruit such as melons or vegetables such as turnips which are often sold by item rather than by weight. Another example is products such as legs of lamb or cuts of meat, where the weight varies but a fixed price is charged.
- Pre-packaged products not greater than 50 grams or 50 millilitres, such as small packets of sweets, crisps and popcorn
- Where the selling price has been reduced from the usual price on account of its damaged condition or the danger of its deterioration
- A multi-pack of different products, such as a Christmas hamper
- Food sold in restaurants, pubs, coffee shops, or other outlets where the food can be eaten on the premises. Note that where such businesses sell regular grocery items, these are subject to the unit price requirements.
If your shop doesn’t have equipment for printing shelf-edge labels or for point-of-sale scanning, you only have to display the selling price. If you sell from a stall or other mobile sales unit, you are also exempt from having to show unit prices, apart from products you sell in bulk (see below).
Selling in bulk
All products sold in bulk have to be unit priced. Under the rules, products are sold in bulk where they are not pre-packaged, and when they are weighed or measured in the presence of the customer.
For example, vegetables can be sold loose, and can be selected and weighed by the customer or trader. Fresh meat which is not pre-packaged can also be selected by the consumer, and weighed by the butcher.
As it is impossible in these instances to show a selling price, you are not required to give one. But you must still display the unit price.
If you are in a shop or on a stall, your prices must be clearly visible and legible to prospective customers and near the product. But what if you are selling via a website or by mail order?
These are instances of “distance selling”, where you and your customer aren’t physically present together. Other examples would be orders taken over the phone or by fax or email.
In these cases the price must be given near to the description of the product (for example next to each other on a web page, or near to each other in a mail order catalogue).
In a free market, individual businesses can decide on the prices of the products they sell. But sometimes prices in a particular sector are deliberately kept high because it is dominated by just one company (a monopoly) or by a small handful of businesses (a cartel).
This would be a case of price fixing, and businesses doing this could find themselves under investigation by the CCPC.