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For consumers buying products and services, the most basic information they need is the price.  So what are consumers’ rights and retailers’ responsibilities when it comes to pricing?

Are retailers allowed to charge whatever price they want?

Sometimes, consumers may feel that retailers are charging too high a price for an item but, in general, legislation does not control pricing and retailers are free to set whatever prices they choose.  Some retailers may opt to charge a significantly higher price for the same or similar product than their competitors and they are within their rights to do so. In a free and competitive market, it is then up to the consumer to decide if they wish to pay that price.   The CAI always urges consumers to shop around and seek out the best available value.

Do retailers have to display their prices?

In order to allow consumers compare prices and make informed decisions about their purchases, the legislation requires retailers to display the price of all goods on offer.  The price shown must be the complete price, including VAT or any other charges or extras.  Prices should be displayed either on the product or near it – for example, on the edge of the shelf on which the product is placed. If the product is sold by weight or volume, the retailer must show both the actual price of the product and the unit price – for example, the price per kilo or litre. This enables the consumer to make a more accurate price comparison and assess value for money.  Again, the unit price must be displayed on or near the product on the shelf.  When it comes to service providers, the requirements vary but, in general, hairdressers, barbers, petrol stations, pubs, cafes and restaurants must display price lists in such a way that consumers can check them without having to enter the premises – for example, in the window or on a board placed outside.  Hotels must display maximum and minimum prices in hotel bedrooms or in an information folder.

Does the price have to be displayed in euro?

Under EU legislation, the price of products on sale in Ireland must be displayed clearly in euro.  The product may also be marked with the price in other currencies – for example, sterling – and there is no requirement that the euro price be larger or more obvious than the price in other currencies.  It can be frustrating to see a sterling price alongside a euro price that is not its equivalent conversion under the current exchange rate but retailers can set prices at whatever level they want and are not obliged to charge comparable prices in the UK and Ireland. Often, retailers will argue that the higher euro price is due to higher operational costs in Ireland.

Does the retailer have to sell a product at the price displayed?

Retailers cannot deliberately mislead consumers when displaying prices, but they are allowed to make a genuine mistake and they are permitted to correct this mistake right up to the point of sale.  Thus, if the price is displayed on an item is lower than the retailer intended to sell it at and a consumer brings the item to the till, the retailer is entitled to refuse to sell the item at the lower displayed price and the consumer can decide not to buy the product at the new stated price.   Once the mistake is uncovered, the incorrectly marked price should be adjusted as soon as possible.

Can retailers raise or lower their prices as they like?

There is no legislation to prevent retailers from increasing their prices to take advantage of a special occasion or time of year.  Equally, retailers may decide to reduce prices, but if they do so they must not give misleading or false information about the previous price charged.  Businesses cannot claim that goods have been sold at a higher price and are now on sale for a lower price unless the goods were actually on sale at the higher price for a “reasonable period,” which is generally understood to be 28 days in the three months before the price reduction.

How are the rules on pricing enforced?

The government-funded Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has statutory powers of enforcement and can take action against businesses for breaches of consumer law, including misleading pricing and failure to display pricing.  If consumers notice any breaches or examples of unfair or misleading practices by businesses, they can report the issue to the CCPC.

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