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Misleading pricing – what is it, and what are your rights?

Different advertised prices, checkout scanning errors and hidden fees are just some of the things to watch out for. 

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Last updated: 06 May 2024


Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

We get asked a lot of questions about the rights of consumers when it comes to the pricing of goods and services, so we've put together this article to answer some of your most common questions.

For example, what happens when a retailer shows different prices for the same goods? What can people do about hidden fees? And can you get an item for free if it scans incorrectly at the checkout?

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Multiple pricing

If a business displays more than one price for the same item, it's called multiple pricing. When this happens, the business must sell the item for the lowest 'displayed price', or withdraw the item for sale until the price discrepancy is fixed.

The definition of a 'displayed price' is a price shown:

  • on the item
  • on anything connected with or used with the item
  • on anything used to display the item
  • in a current catalogue
  • that reasonably appears to apply to the goods
  • on a register or a price scanner.

A displayed price includes prices in a catalogue, online, or in television advertising.

The following examples are not considered a displayed price:

  • A price that is completely covered by another price.
  • A per unit price that is a different way of expressing the price (e.g. in a supermarket where unit price is shown to help compare the product to other similar products).
  • A price that is not in Australian currency.

A displayed price in a catalogue or advertisement is no longer considered the displayed price once a business has retracted it via a similar circulation or audience.

For example, if a catalogue that shows the wrong price is inserted into a major daily newspaper, the retraction should appear as a correction in that newspaper, or in another catalogue inserted into that newspaper within a short time after the original catalogue appeared.

Scanning errors

Woolworths, Coles, Aldi, and some IGA stores are signatories to the voluntary code of practice for computerised checkout systems in supermarkets. 

Generally, this means that if an item is scanned at the checkout at a higher price than it says on the shelf or as advertised, a customer is entitled to receive the first item free and all multiples of the same item at the lower price. But each supermarket has a slightly different policy.

scanning strawberries at supermarket

Each supermarket has a slightly different policy on scanning errors.

Woolworths and Coles

Woolworths's "Price Scan Policy" and Coles' "Promise on Price Scanning" both follow the process explained above. An exception is with  promotions like multi-buy, where they will give the first item free and the second at the correct promotional price.

Their policies also don't apply to liquor or tobacco products, or when the price exceeds a certain threshold: $30 for Woolworths or $50 for Coles. They also don't cover instances when the wrong Price Look Up number (PLU) is entered at the checkout.

Woolworths' policy also will not cover prices that have been interfered with by a customer; when the pricing error is made by a staff member; prices that are not displayed instore; or products like gift cards, SIM cards or prepaid mobile phones.


Aldi will refund the first higher priced item and charge subsequent items at the lower price, except for their Special Buys. When a Special Buy item scans at a higher price than on the shelf, Aldi will refund the difference between the scanned price and the shelf price.


All IGA retailers follow their legal obligations around scanning errors to either sell items at the lowest price or withdraw them from sale. However, some also follow voluntary codes that offer additional remedies. These include the Master Grocers Australia Scanning Code of Practice and the IGA Code of Practice. Check with your local IGA retailer to see what their scanning practices are.

Bait advertising

When a product or service is advertised at a very low promotional price, but is either not available or only a very limited amount is available, it's called bait advertising. This is because this practice uses low prices as 'bait' to get customers into the store. 

Bait advertising is prohibited under Australian Consumer Law as it is considered a false or misleading claim.

It's not misleading if the business is clear about the product or service being in short supply or only on sale for a certain period of time. It's also fine if it's clear that prices or items are only available in a certain region or a certain store.

This practice uses low prices as 'bait' to get customers into the store

Whether it is misleading or not may also depend on the product or service. For a product like a discounted dishwasher, for example, you could reasonably expect there may only be a few units available. But if it's discounted perfume, you'd expect there to be more than two or three bottles available.

Sometimes businesses might offer a "raincheck" on the advertised price if the product has sold out to keep goodwill with their customers, or they might offer a similar product at the same price. 

This means you may be able to buy the product at the advertised price even after the promotion has ended once the product is back in stock. This is fine as long as the business is not using the sale price as bait to upsell customers to something more expensive.

misleading price tag sale

The price should be clear and unambiguous.

Display of total price

When businesses are advertising or promoting their goods or services, they must display a single price that is the minimum total cost of buying the goods, including GST and any other extra fees and charges. There must be no hidden fees. 

The single price should be clear and unambiguous and should include all the parts of the price that have to be paid to get the goods. Optional extras must be included in the total price if they are pre-selected by the business – such as seat selection on a flight.

The single price should be clear and unambiguous and should include all the parts of the price that have to be paid

If there is a minimum delivery charge, this should also be displayed in the advertisement. If businesses offer a free delivery option like click and collect, they do not have to include delivery charges in their displayed total price.

The single price should be at least as prominent as any other price that is advertised, so that you can work out which price is the total price from looking at the ad.

Sunday and public holiday surcharge

Restaurants and cafes that add on a surcharge for Sundays and/or public holidays do not need to have a whole separate menu with the different prices. 

It is sufficient if the menu includes the words "A surcharge of [percentage] applies on [day or days]", and these words are at least as prominent as the rest of the prices on the menu.

Misleading price displays

Businesses must not show prices that are incorrect or are likely to mislead customers. This includes prices that are displayed instore, in advertising, or in any other communications with customers.

Prices can be misleading in lots of ways. Here are some common examples:

  • Saying a price is the 'sale' or 'special' price when it is the normal price of the product or service. And if that item has been sold at the sale price for a significant amount of time, it may be misleading as this is now the normal price of that product.
  • Showing a false 'before' price next to a sale price. The before price must have been the price the goods were sold for in a reasonable period prior to the sale.
  • The 'before' price must also have applied to a reasonable number of sales before the sale started.
  • Comparing the sale price to a false cost or wholesale price, or to a recommended retail price that is not generally charged for the product.
  • Comparing the price against a competitor's prices in a misleading way, such as leaving out important information or referring to slightly different products.

Drip pricing

Drip pricing is when fees and charges are incrementally added to an online purchase throughout the purchasing process. It is misleading to consumers and can be detrimental to competition. 

Airlines, accommodation, care hire and ticketing are common culprits for engaging in drip pricing.

Here's how it works. You see a price advertised as you start the booking or purchasing process. You may have been attracted to the website by the advertised price, and perhaps even seen that it compares favourably against other companies. 

You may (or may not) see fees and charges being added along the way, not in big chunks, but in smaller 'drips', until the price at the end is quite a lot more than the price at the beginning. 

You reach the checkout, and even though you're annoyed at the extra charges, you've now invested time and effort and don't want to start the process over again

You reach the checkout, and even though you're annoyed at the extra charges, you've now invested time and effort and don't want to start the process over again. So the consumer has been misled, and competitors who disclose their full prices upfront are disadvantaged. 

There are civil and criminal penalties for misleading consumers about prices. A company using drip pricing may be failing to comply with single price requirements.

The ACCC recommends you look out for pre-selected options and deselect anything unwanted; add up all the charges and figure out if the total price is what you want to pay; and be prepared to back out of the transaction.

looking at receipt laptop

A receipt or bill must be legible or understandable.

Receipts and itemised bills

Businesses must always provide a receipt or proof of purchase for anything over $75. If one is not provided, consumers have the right to ask for one. 

Consumers can also request a receipt for anything under $75; businesses must provide the receipt within seven days of being asked.

A receipt can be a GST tax invoice, cash register docket, a hand-written document, a lay-by agreement, or a digital receipt like a confirmation for an internet transaction.

Businesses must always provide a receipt or proof of purchase for anything over $75

The receipt must include the business's name and ABN or CAN, the product or service supplied and the date of supply, and the price.

After receiving a bill for a service, consumers have up to 30 days to request an itemised version. This must show:

  • how the price was calculated
  • the number of hours of labour and the hourly rate (if relevant)
  • a list of the materials used and the amount charged for them (if relevant).

Suppliers must provide the itemised bill within seven days of the request and it must be provided free of charge and be legible and understandable.

What you can do about misleading pricing

If you have a price-related complaint against a business, first contact the business itself and explain the problem. You will find that in many cases you can find a solution quickly. 

You may need to speak with a manager or the business owner. Make a note of your conversation and if necessary follow up with an email or letter. 

Sometimes the social media side of a business may be monitored more closely than emails and phone calls

Consider commenting on the social media page of the business (keep it polite). Sometimes the social media side of a business may be monitored more closely than emails and phone calls.

If the business doesn't resolve your issue, you can contact your state or territory consumer protection agency. 

You can also submit a report to the ACCC – although the Commission doesn't resolve individual complaints, the information can help it understand if there is a problem it needs to work on.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.