Chemist Warehouse has been accused of charging more for some products during the Black Friday sales than before the discounting period started.
Consumer group Choice said on Monday that a Chemist Warehouse customer informed them that prices on three items during the Black Friday sales were collectively 38 per cent higher than before the sales frenzy began on November 26.
Choice director of campaigns Erin Turner said the case was a reminder for customers not to get sucked into the hype of major sales periods.
Black Friday hit
Choice was alerted to the issue by a member who went to buy some products online from Chemist Warehouse before Black Friday, but failed to process the payment due to complications with their card.
When the customer went to buy the same items again during Black Friday, they found the prices had risen, and when they looked again after Black Friday, the prices had fallen.
Ms Turner said Choice has screenshots of the price fluctuations for the particular items as evidence.
“It’s really rare to be able to get that point-in-time pricing information,” she said.
“Businesses are rarely upfront about how much prices can fluctuate.
“So we thought it was a great example of how, [for] some businesses, the best price isn’t going to be when the big sales are on.”
Ms Turner said Chemist Warehouse attributed the price fluctuations to its business model of constant sales and promotions.
In a statement to Choice, a Chemist Warehouse spokesperson said the Black Friday price increase on the items in question was due to the company’s current sales strategy, which involves “a vast array of sales campaigns”.
“Over the [identified] period … what [Choice] consider pricing of concern is simply the dovetailing of marketing activities,” the spokesperson said.
“Three separate sale events ran from one into another and then into the other.”
Ms Turner said operations such as Chemist Warehouse’s business models make it confusing for Australians to know when to get the best deal.
She said Choice considered reporting Chemist Warehouse to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), but ultimately found the company didn’t technically lie.
“They didn’t technically claim that their Black Friday price was the cheapest price,” she said.
But she said the pharmacy had conducted “fairly tricky” pricing practices to make it harder to determine when products would be more affordable.
“I’m sure that Chemist Warehouse won’t be the only brand that takes advantage of big sale moments,” she said.
“They’re just the brand we caught.”
How to avoid shady sales
The latest development comes after Choice released research in November showing retailers often don’t offer the cheapest prices during their Black Friday sales.
Analysing select products from 13 Australian retailers, the study found that some prices were up to 33 per cent cheaper in the six months prior to the Black Friday sales.
As a result, Ms Turner said consumers should plan ahead and keep an eye on the prices of items they want to buy throughout the year.
“The most important thing is to know what you want before you go looking,” she said.
“Know which product you’re really keen on, what it regularly sells for, and just keep an eye out for it.”
An ACCC spokesperson said they couldn’t comment on the specific case involving Chemist Warehouse, but under Australian Consumer Law, businesses are prohibited from misleading or deceiving consumers about the prices of their products.
“Consumers should do their due diligence before shopping for items, and ensure they compare similar products across similar retailers to get a product to suit their needs at the best price possible,” the spokesperson said.
“This includes researching the recommended retail price for the product to gain a better understanding of any comparative sales discounts that may be advertised.”
Ms Turner said the biggest challenges consumers face is figuring out when businesses are playing tricks on them.
One business that was caught misleading consumers was Kogan, which was slapped with a $350,000 penalty last year for a deceitful tax-time promotion in 2018 following an investigation by the ACCC.
The retailer was found to have raised prices directly before a sales period – an act that Ms Turner described as “egregious”.
“It’s hard to know how many businesses do this – and there’s no transparency,” she said.
“It’s also something we just all need to be aware of – businesses aren’t always going to be upfront with you about the net sale price.”