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Morrisons low prices

You’ve likely seen the stories, warning that the prices of grocery staples like meat, produce and dairy items are inching up. But you wouldn’t know it, based on what a growing number of grocery stores are saying. That’s because “new lower prices” seem to be the latest buzzwords in the industry.

So are prices going up, then, or going down? If economists are telling us one thing, and our grocery stores are telling us something else entirely, who can you really trust?

Well, one grocery chain is putting its money where its mouth is, by allowing customers to search prices before and after, and see for themselves whether their store’s promised price cuts are for real.

The store is the British supermarket Morrisons, which has launched a “Price Checker Tool” on its website. “We’ve cut the prices on over a thousand of your favorite products,” the website proclaims. “Not temporary reductions or supermarket smoke and mirrors, these are new every day low prices on the things you buy every week.” Customers are invited to try out the price checker, which publishes several months’ worth of price history on the newly discounted products and updates them every week. “From now on you can take a look at any of these products and check we haven’t put the prices up,” Morrisons promises.

It’s a remarkable effort at transparency, in an area that would otherwise leave many shoppers skeptical.

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A number of grocery chains here in the U.S. have recently launched efforts to lower prices. The most recent is Ahold, the owner of Giant and Stop & Shop. The company has announced its intention to expand a price-cut test, and lower prices on more than a thousand products in hundreds of its stores by the end of this year.

Ahold’s move follows recent price-cut initiatives at a number of other grocery stores, such as
Giant Eagle, Pick ‘n Save, Harris Teeter
and, most prominently, Kroger, which has coupled its price cuts with the discontinuation of double coupons. Some shoppers, stung by the loss of double coupons, have vowed to hold Kroger to its lower-prices promise. And many aren’t impressed by what they’ve seen.

“I’m still waiting on the lower prices. When will they start?” one customer grumbled recently on Kroger’s Facebook page. “Your new ‘lower prices’ are actually higher than they were before hand (did you think no one would notice?)” wrote another. “I have noticed some of the prices have gone down by a couple cents, while some went up!” commented a third.

At least one study suggests there’s something to that skepticism. In the 2012 book “Store Wars”, authors Greg Thain and John Bradley note that “it is extremely difficult for a non-hard discounter retailer to make permanently lower prices provide a long-term, sustainable differential advantage.” So those “new lower prices” don’t always last for long.

That’s where a strategy like Morrisons’ comes in. “We want customers to have complete faith in our value for money and we’re hoping that this warts and all approach to our pricing will help,” said Morrisons digital marketing director Amanda Metcalfe. She even admitted that a handful of products whose new lower prices are featured in Morrisons’ Price Checker Tool are actually more expensive now than they were at their cheapest point, several months ago. And the proof is right there on the Price Checker Tool, for customers to see for themselves.

So might Kroger launch a website, where you can keep an eye on its prices and make sure they don’t creep up? Perhaps Giant and Stop & Shop will publish their prices and invite you to see just how low their promised lower prices are? So far, none of those stores has announced such an effort. But the fact that one grocery chain has already done so, is a positive sign that at least some of these new lower prices promised by so many stores, and doubted by so many shoppers, just might be here to stay.

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