Guide to product prices
Under consumer law you must provide consumers with accurate information about the prices and quality of your products. In general, you must display the selling price of every item offered for sale, and you should make it clear what particular item the price relates to.
There are regulations too about the claims you can make about your prices.
You have legal obligations regarding the actual prices, previous prices and recommended prices of your products: these prices must be stated truthfully.
You must display the final price, but there is an exception to this rule - where you indicate a sale with a general notice saying you have a reduction of prices by a fraction or percentage of previous prices (for example "50% off all marked prices" or "1/2 marked price").
'Reduced' prices in the sales
If you have stock in the sales with reduced prices, you have to have had the products on offer at the advertised original price for a reasonable period before the price was reduced.
For example, you are not allowed to have a label or sign on a product saying "reduced by 30 per cent" if this is the first time you are selling this particular product.
Tax inclusive prices
The price you give consumers must be the total price, and "tax inclusive". 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.
Wrongly marked prices
Shops can and often do make an honest mistake about the prices they display. A common example would be where some price labels are wrong and the marked price is lower than what the price should be.
In such a situation your staff at the till need to point out that the marked price is wrong, then the customer has the choice whether they are willing to pay the proper price or put back the goods without buying them.
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 sold or 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 (see left) to see your price display obligations.
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.
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).
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.
For some goods the unit price refers to standard containers. For example the unit price for wine is the final price in euro, including VAT and all other taxes, for 75cl.
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 a fixed price rather than by weight
- 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 retail outlets where food can be eaten
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 case 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).
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 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.
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 scrutiny by the Competition Authority.
Read the Competition Authority's guide to enforcing competition law