Six retailers reach deal with NY Attorney General to provide unit pricing online

NEW YORK — Walmart, Costco, Walgreens, FreshDirect, CVS and drugstore.com have reached an agreement with the New York State Attorney General to provide unit pricing information on their websites and mobile apps.

“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,” said Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. “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."

Under the agreement, Walmart and Costco will provide unit pricing information on their websites and mobile stores throughout the United States by the end of 2014. Walgreens, FreshDirect, CVS and Drugstore.com will provide unit pricing 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 create in the years to come.

Unit pricing benefits consumers by allowing them to quickly compare prices of different items regardless of quantity, manufacturer, packaging size or discounts. For example, a single product category, such as breakfast cereal, can feature a wide array of sizes and packaging combinations from a variety of competing brands. The unit price combines those factors and gives the price per ounce, generally displayed next to the retail price, allowing consumers to make better and faster choices.

According to Forrester Research, online grocery sales are projected to reach $21 billion a year nationwide by 2016. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have some type of unit pricing requirement. New York law requires that large retail stores clearly display the price per unit of measurement for most types of food, cleaning and paper products, toiletries, pet food and over-the-counter medications.

Prior to this initiative, unit pricing information online was rare. Among large retailers, full availability of unit pricing was limited to online grocer Peapod.

The Attorney General's Consumer Protection Bureau encourages other retailers to recognize the benefits of providing this information to consumers and follow the strong example these chains have set.

Although Amazon displays unit pricing on some of its pages, it does not provide the information uniformly across its platforms. Furthermore, its subsidiaries do not currently display unit pricing. Amazon refused to agree to provide this information, according to Schneiderman. 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.

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