Price Scanning

30 Apr 2009 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Consumer Affairs a question about price scanning accuracy.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: On 23 April this year, in a press release entitled 'SA price scanners least accurate of Australian states' the minister stated:

South Australian retailers need to get their act together after recording the worst performance of all the states in a recent national audit of price scanning accuracy.

She further states that offenders are 'on notice that any repeat behaviour will prompt enforcement action'. On examining media releases issued by the then minister, going back to 2006, South Australia was in fact the second-best performer; and, in 2007, South Australia was the best performer in terms of price scanning accuracy. In a media release issued on 28 April 2006, then minister Rankine stated:

...the survey reveals South Australian hardware stores and service stations were likely to cause greater consumer detriment by overcharging customers...if errors are again detected OCBA will consider prosecution action.

In 2007 the matter of enforcement action by OCBA was repeated. My questions to the minister are:

1. Since taking over this portfolio, to what does she attribute the fact that price scanning has taken us from the top of the list to the bottom?

2. Since those media releases were issued in the past two years, what action has OCBA taken for repeat offences, and has any prosecution action been successful?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for State/Local Government Relations, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister for Government Enterprises, Minister Assisting the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Energy) (15:10): Although it was very disappointing to see that, in its most recent monitoring results, OCBA reported a decline in the price scanning accuracy of South Australian retail, it is worth pointing out that South Australia participates in a national audit. The national average for accuracy was, in fact, 91 per cent, and I am pleased to say that South Australia is sitting on the national average. However, it was disappointing that we had declined 1 per cent since the audit from the year before.

I believe these inaccuracies are occurring because, if you look at the data, almost half the number of inaccuracies were due to overcharging and half the number were due to undercharging. It would appear that retailers or traders are not deliberately trying to skim money off customers. They are not trying to rip off people in that way. In looking at the data, the analysis is that retailers are simply not putting in place the appropriate processes and systems to ensure that the price they have advertised, placed on shelves or outlined often in their catalogues is the same as that placed in the check-out computer system. Really, slack or shoddy retail practices and processes are attributed to this.

As I said, I am pleased to say that South Australia is still sitting on the national average in terms of accuracy, which is a good thing. I still believe that sitting at 91 per cent—which is almost a 10 per cent inaccuracy—is not good enough. OCBA has been conducting fair trading monitoring and education programs. I think they were introduced back in 1998 or 1999, with more than 10,000 retail premises being visited. The main focus of these programs, of course, is to try to educate traders about their systems to make them aware of the importance of the accuracy of price scanning.
OCBA is not out there to try to put organisations out of business. It attempts to inform, educate and encourage people to do the right thing.

Throughout 2008 about 600 items were scanned, covering about 25 different retailers. Each year OCBA tries to focus on those areas of retail that appear to have the greatest problems. I have just forgotten, but historically one area had been a problem but it had been doing really well so that it was not included in the audit this year. OCBA tries to tailor the audit to the problem end of the market, which I think is a really sound practice.

The objective is to warn initially. We also seek to gain assurances from offenders, because we know that if an assurance is breached that is an offence and we can then take further action. Of course, repeat offenders are prosecuted, and there are a number of prosecutions on record with respect to retailers that have been multiple offenders. I believe the last one was a service station that offended a number of times and did not take heed of warnings, and so action was taken.