Unit pricing: An effective tool?


François Decary-Gilardeau


Option consommateurs




Quebec is the only province in Canada where unit pricing is regulated by law. Everywhere else, it is voluntary. The data collected in this study report clearly confirm the usefulness of this tool for consumers and even its impact on consumer choice at the moment of purchase. Option consommateurs (OC) recommend that a mandatory system of unit pricing be established all across Canada. This should be accompanied by educational and communication activities aimed at informing consumers, particularly those who have the most difficulty comparing prices (seniors, young people and allophones).

More specifically, OC will issue recommendations about which regulatory provisions need to be emphasized in order to arrive at an effective framework that serves consumers. The aim of these provisions is to standardize labelling while enhancing the readability of labels and ensuring they are easy to understand. These recommendations apply as much to Quebec as to the rest of Canada, and in the short term, should be incorporated within a standard governing the display of unit prices.

In order to arrive at these recommendations, OC conducted a three-step process. First, they measured Canadian consumers’ understanding, and knowledge of unit pricing and their interest therein by means of a survey. Subsequently, they conducted a comparative legal analysis to identify trends and best practices found in the texts of laws. Finally, they analyzed business practices related to unit pricing in Quebec and Canada and evaluated the quality of the shelf labels of some fifteen different brands.

The survey highlighted the advantages of unit pricing for consumers. Furthermore, OC showed that Canadians who are familiar with this method tended to be those with the best strategies for selecting articles offering the best quantity-price ratio. The comparative legal analysis revealed the wide diversity of legal provisions in effect elsewhere. On the one hand, these provisions are primarily designed to better inform consumers by establishing standards for standardizing and displaying information. On the other, they are pragmatic, and attempt not to unnecessarily increase the burden on retailers, particularly smaller ones. Finally, in the field study, OC assessed the quality of unit pricing in various retailers. By quality, they mean the intelligibility and readability of information provided to consumers. The investigation revealed several weaknesses in both Quebec and Ontario that undermined consumers' ability to compare prices optimally. These weaknesses apply also to the format and design of labels and the way that information is presented on them. Many of these shortcomings could be easily rectified by the retailers themselves.

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OCA Funded Research
This research received funding support through the Office of Consumer Affairs' Contributions Program.

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Source: Consumer Policy Research Database

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