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    Government consults on unit price labelling; Announces clampdown on fake reviews and hidden fees

    The price of fruit and vegetables is displayed on a trader's market stall in London on May 12, 2022. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

    The government on Monday launched new consultations to improve transparency, fairness and clarity for customers as they shop, including a crackdown on hidden fees in products ranging from train tickets to food deliveries.

    One of the consultations looks at how to simplify labelling on goods.

    Following a review by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the Department for Business and Trade has put forward proposals to reform the Price Marking Order (PMO).

    The PMO requires traders to display the final selling price and, where appropriate the final unit price (e.g. price per litre/kilogram) of products in a clear way.

    The government said these changes will ensure unit pricing is consistently applied, including to promotions and special offers, helping consumers compare products easily and identify what items represent the best value to them.

    “This consultation follows recommendations from the CMA to government to tighten the rules on how everyday items are priced on supermarket shelves as well as our work tackling fake reviews online,” Sarah Cardell, chief executive of the CMA, said.

    “We’re very pleased to see this getting underway and it’s an important step toward clearer rules and greater transparency for people when shopping around for goods and services.”

    Another consultation seeks views on measures to stop fake reviews, as initially announced in the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill (DMCC).

    The ambition is to ensure that consumers and traders continue to benefit from reviews that represent a genuine experience, while stamping out the purchase and sales of fake reviews, and ensuring firms take an appropriate level of responsibility for reviews on their websites.

    The government has also published findings of a research commissioned by the prime minister in June as part of the government’s ongoing work to support people with the cost of living.

    The research has confirmed that the so-called ‘drip pricing’ – where the price paid at checkout is higher than originally advertised due to extra, but necessary, fees – is widespread, and occurs in more than half of providers in the entertainment (54%) and hospitality (56%) industry, and almost three quarters across transport and communication (72 percent) sectors. In total, this costs UK consumers £1.6 billion online each year.

    The government said the research findings will inform the consultation to ensure ‘drip pricing’ is rooted out where it harms consumers most.

    “[The] measures will help people keep hold of their hard-earned cash and ensure they have the clearest and most accurate information upfront before they make a purchase,” Kevin Hollinrake, minister for enterprise, markets and small business, said.

    “From the shelves of supermarkets to digital trolleys, modern-day shopping provides a great wealth of choice. But fake reviews and hidden fees can make those choices increasingly confusing and leaves customers unsure about what product is right for them.

    “We’ll be listening to industry to ensure these new regulations work for businesses too and don’t generate unnecessary burdens, while at the same time providing a crucial safety net for consumers and their cash.”

    British Retail Consortium (BRC) has voiced its support for the measures.

    “The BRC fully supports practical, proportionate consumer protection measures and the level playing field they bring. It is important to keep the rules up to date to reflect changes in buying and selling methods. We look forward to engaging constructively on the proposals,” Graham Wynn, assistant director for consumer policy at the BRC, commented.

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