Consumer agency takes on tricky supermarkets

The nation’s consumer protection agency seems to have added some muscle with the arrival of the new administration.

A new study takes on supermarkets and the traditional methods of tricking the consumer.

Anyone who has shopped for a while in Costa Rica has noticed anomalies. For example a package of two items of a product might be priced the same as the total of two single items despite promotions that suggest savings.

In fact, during the survey by the Dirección de Apoyo al Consumidor, inspectors actually found a cleaning product that was advertised as a two-pack special for 3,200 colons, or about $6. When the inspectors compared the price of two individual items that were not packaged together, they found that each sold for 1,540 colons. So by purchasing the two-pack the shopper actually would be paying 120 colons more, the report said.

The report was quick to call such promotions trickery.

The Dirección de Apoyo al Consumidor is part of the Ministerio de Economía, Industria y Comercio. For the first time the report contained a call for shoppers to report errors or incomplete information or even downright trickery to its complaint number 1-311 or 800 CONSUMO (800-2667866).

The minister, Welmer Ramos, noted in a summary that the shopper is at a disadvantage with incomplete information.  He underlined the need for the state to play a role in keeping store shelves honest.

The survey was from June 12 to June 17 in the province of San José. Eight locations surveyed were parts of chains and seven were independent.

The focus was on food, cleaning and personal hygiene products.

The survey report said that problems were found in every location. For example, a multiple pack of some product might be the only one on the shelf, so the shopper would not know if the price was lower than the sum of individual items.

The survey was skeptical of display promotions that advertised precio especial, precio super especial, oferta especial, rebarata, pack de ahorro.

The consumer is exposed to a great variety of offers, discounts, and gifts that not always represent a saving for their pocket,” said Ramos. “For this reason, labors of  surveillance are important for the correct functioning of the market and to avoid inducing errors or tricks for the consumer.”

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