‘Price speculation’ in Portugal: some supermarkets charge customers more than the price displayed

More than 4% of supermarkets inspected in Portugal in recent months charged products to customers more than the price displayed on shelves.

Illustration | © Alexandru Tugui

In Portugal, products paid for by customers may be more expensive than the prices displayed on shelves. The Portuguese Food and Economic Security Authority (ASAE) has been regularly carrying out inspections in supermarkets in recent months to combat “price speculation”.

And it has already opened another 11 criminal cases for price speculation in 2023 alone reports Portuguese newspaper Jornal de Noticias which got access to the agency’s most recent data.

Price variations of products observed in January can vary from 2 percent, around 10 cents, to more than 50 percent. In previous months, some prices could have gone almost 70 percent higher.

The authority actually started to carry out inspections in 292 retailers, supermarkets and hypermarkets, in September last year. They then filed 16 criminal proceedings for price speculation, accounting for 5.5 percent of the stores visited.

In another report shared in December, ASAE filed another 10 criminal proceedings for crimes of price speculation after the inspection of 270 retailers in previous weeks. In total, ASAE inspected 562 retailers in 2022 and opened 26 criminal cases of price speculation (4.6%).

The first figures of 2023 show 4.2 percent of the 256 supermarkets visited this year had customers pay more than prices actually displayed, confirming the practice keeps on going. “There is no inversion of behavior” in the retail industry, said Pedro Portugal Gaspar to Jornal de Noticias.

Many cases of non-compliance are related to promotions advertised on the shelves for food such as pasta, cereals, milk, eggs, potato, onions, butter, meat and tuna. But the discounts aren’t applied at payment.

And smaller retailers, not as equipped to manage price changes digitally as large chains, are not necessarily overcharging products. ASAE notices that charging more than the prices displayed mostly happens in large retail chains, with a higher incidence of non-compliance among mid-size supermarkets in the metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Porto. ASAE doesn’t make the companies involved public.

Pingo Doce and Continente are the two largest retail operators in Portugal.

In December, Mr. Gasper told CNN Portugal he couldn’t say whether the price variations were intentional. However, he took the matter seriously and wanted to combat it “radically” as “this detour should not be seen as a single act, but rather multiplied by the daily cash flow of the product” sold across the multiple supermarkets and hypermarkets of large retail brands across the country.

Price variations are also harder to detect from customers since prices already increase a lot because of inflation the ASAE points out.

Crimes of price speculation can lead to a fine and from six months to three years of prison in theory. But retailers may only be fined of an amount that depends on the extent of the speculation.

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