What Answer Do You Want?

alt You tell me who you want to be cheapest, give me half a day to do a price survey, and I will get the evidence.

Whilst in no way denouncing the excellent work the Consumer Council do to keep value at the forefront, I do think it’s only fair on consumers to point out the problems with price surveys.

With between 6,000 and 15,000 individual products in every supermarket in Jersey, how many products should be chosen to give a fair reflection? Is it 100? 500? 1,000?

Why pick just 17? And which 17 do you pick? Everyone’s shopping habits are so different.

Then there’s the real problem. Are bananas the same as bananas? It may seem like a silly question, but if one banana is fair-traded and the other is not, do they represent the same value to consumers? Is it fair to compare them? A local carrot with an imported one? What about more standard lines like Fairy Liquid? Suppliers have brought in so many size variants to control inflationary pressures on price that you could easily accidently compare a 350ml Fairy Liquid with a 400ml, and what if one of the supermarkets has a particular item on promotion? Does that count?

And so the challenge goes on.

Inside the industry it is commonly understood that you need a like for like comparison of around 100 lines to form a reasonable assessment on overall basket value, but even 100 lines represents only 1½% of the products normally found in a small store.

The JEP ran the headline ‘Alliance, top of the shops, says official survey', but is it really?

I had a mischievous little play with the consumer council prices and offer the following spoof headlines to illustrate my point:

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These headlines are misleading, but you can easily find evidence to make them true. Get my point?

We accept the limited analysis that was conducted by the Consumer Council. We also accept that price surveys should be conducted from time to time, but my point is that it can be a lottery. However, it is worth drawing attention to the fact that the vast majority of our customers are also Members, and by the time you have subtracted Dividend from the basket price, we offer the best value, even on this survey.

Double Dividend simply widens the clear blue water between us and the other players in the market.

So what are the lessons to take from this? Firstly, I have learnt to take price comparisons with a pinch of salt, and I suggest you do the same. Secondly, if you are not already a Member I strongly encourage you to join. If your friends aren’t Members, I encourage you to encourage them to join.

Value for us is inherent, not only in our sector leading pricing (current survey aside), but also in the unique proposition that offers Members the opportunity to transact with the business they own and to share equitably in the profits we all make. There’s the real value.

Oh, and be careful with price surveys, it is often better to trust your own experience.

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