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Aussie grocery chain defends pricing tactic against claims it is a 'trick'

Consumer expert Jana Bowden says the practice by Harris Farm has 'little benefit' to customers.

As supermarkets across the country are scrutinised for alleged deceptive pricing strategies, another popular Aussie grocery chain has been accused of using ‘tricks’ to encourage time-poor customers into buying more than they need.

Harris Farm, a fruit and vegetable market with over 30 locations across NSW and Queensland, was called out for offering a $6 bundle deal for two punnets of cherry tomatoes. But on closer look, the individual price of one packet was $3 each — meaning there was no advantage in buying multiple packs. There are countless more examples including cucumber and mushroom bundles leading one consumer psychologist to brand the move a “perceptual trick”.

But Harris Farm Markets has defended its marketing of specials, saying the unique approach means “everyone” can access affordable products without penalty as part of its “we won’t sting you” approach.

Three images of Harris Farm Markets
Harris Farm Markets has come under fire for its pricing strategy. Source: Facebook

Harris Farm hits back at 'trick' claims

The fruit and veg chain told Yahoo News that by not offering "2-for deals", the company stand[s] apart from other supermarkets by not compelling customers to buy multiple items to enjoy special pricing.

“We understand that some questions have arisen regarding the presentation of our specials, particularly the use of red and yellow tickets, and we welcome this opportunity to clarify our approach,” a Harris Farm Markets spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia.

Specials at the supermarket are denoted with red and yellow tickets and prominently labelled as "special", something the supermarket claims to have done since its inception in 1971.

“We believe in offering our customers the flexibility to benefit from these special offers without imposing bulk purchases.

"This principle stems from the vision of our founder, who believes in ensuring that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, could access quality products at affordable prices without being penalised.”

Aussies 'fooled' by advertising posters

Despite the chain's explanation, Macquarie University professor Jana Bowden argues the individual price on the ‘special’ tag still requires additional cognitive effort and attention from the customer.

"It is not a ‘forced bulk purchase’ but it is designed to encourage customers to buy more and some customers who are not paying close attention during their shop will be coaxed, tricked, mistaken — whatever you wish to call it — into buying more simply because they think the bundle deal is better value than buying a single item," she told Yahoo.

Bowden said the strategy of advertising has little benefit to the customer. “Most shoppers will automatically assume they are getting a value-added deal simply because there is a ‘sale’ sign with a bundle two-for-one offer," she said.

She describes the strategy as a “trick of perception” and says not only did the store grab the shopper's attention with a brightly coloured sign, but they’re “coaxed” into adding more items to their basket. “Meanwhile the customer didn’t really get a real bundle deal — they just bought more items during their shop,” she told Yahoo.

Jana admits to falling for these pricing “tricks” herself. “I admit, that even as a consumer psychologist, I fall for this pricing strategy too every now and then, especially when I’m in a rush to get to the shopping over with, or if I have my daughter with me and I’m pushed for time and concentration.”

“Stopping to assess prices takes a lot of cognitive effort and many of us don’t always prioritise that when on the grocery trip. We are all human after all.”

Aussies divided over advertising posters

Aussies could not agree on whether they liked the strategy or not. While some said they felt they were being “fooled” by the advertising despite it being a special offer, others said they liked it.

"This attempt at trying to fool the customers is the main reason I avoid shopping at Harris Farm,” said one disgruntled customer. “I hate it when businesses play stupid mind games with their customers.”

“They are a disgrace and they think their customers are idiots,” added another.

"I actually like this," shared a third. "You get the discount without having to buy 2!" Another echoed that view, saying that the tactic was “perfectly in order.”

Supermarkets 'on notice' over pricing practices

The Harris Farm advertising comes as major supermarkets Coles and Woolworths have been put on notice by the consumer watchdog over “deceptive” pricing tactics.

On Tuesday, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair, Gina Cass-Gottlieb, said it was “carefully looking” at a claim that retailers were conducting deceptive pricing behaviour.

“The ACCC will not hesitate to take action against large suppliers who are misleading customers about prices,” an ACCC spokesperson told Yahoo Finance.

Social media has been full of shoppers showing examples of alleged Coles and Woolworths price tag discrepancies. Earlier this month, a Coles customer caught the supermarket in a 'dead dodgy' practice where the initial price of an item was exaggerated on the specials tag to make the promotion appear more appealing. While the supermarket "corrected" the price tag, it did not respond to questions regarding accusations that the supermarket was doing it on purpose.

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