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Top Retailers to Publish Unit Pricing Online

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Comparison shopping will soon be easier as consumers will have access to unit pricing information online.

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced Tuesday a first of its kind initiative to publish unit pricing information for online supermarkets, nationwide drugstores, and top national and New York retailers.

Within nine months, Walmart, Costco, Walgreens, FreshDirect, CVS and Drugstore.com will make this data available via their respective websites and mobile apps. Schneiderman had aimed at Amazon, but the e-commerce king opted not to participate in the initiative.

Although there’s no indication yet that soft goods will be included in this initiative, Schneiderman stressed that pricing transparency should evolve in accordance with e-commerce growth.

“As the Internet becomes the shopping mall of the 21st century, we need to ensure that consumers have the same robust protections online that they do in brick-and-mortar stores,” Schneiderman said. “Making New York more affordable for the middle class includes empowering consumers to spend their money wisely. This agreement, in which government and the private sector worked collaboratively to adapt conventional rules to an evolving marketplace, is a victory for consumers. I commend these retailers for recognizing the need for transparency and promoting openness online.”

Unit pricing allows shoppers to quickly compare prices of different items without the need to factor in quantity, packaging size or any discounts. So, a consumer could instantly tell whether the family size box of cereal at Costco is a better deal than the regular size box at Fresh Direct. The unit cost factors in packaging sizes and combinations and provides the price per ounce, generally right next to the retail price, the Attorney General’s office explained in a statement.

A Forrester Research report projected that online grocery sales will reach $21 billion per year nationwide by 2016. According to Schneiderman’s office, 19 states and the District of Colombia have unit pricing requirements in place for items like food, toiletries and over-the-counter medications. But prior to this initiative, unit pricing online was scarce.

While Amazon does display unit prices for some of its products, the information is not available across all platforms and its subsidiaries also do not publish the pricing.

“Unfortunately for consumers,” the statement noted, “Amazon refused to agree to provide this information. The company claims it will extend unit pricing to its subsidiary Quidsi, which operates online stores like Soap.com, but refused to commit to that in a written agreement. It also would not agree to extend unit pricing to pages where that information is absent, nor would it commit to continue providing unit pricing information to consumers in the future.”

In accordance with the agreement, Walmart and Costco will publish unit pricing on their websites and mobile stores throughout the U.S. by the end of the year. Walgreens, FreshDirect, CVS and Drugstore.com will make unit pricing available online by March 2015. All six chains have agreed to continue providing unit pricing to consumers in the future, including in any online stores they establish in the future.

More information on the initiative can be found here.

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