Stores to begin to show unit prices online

By Lifestyle and Budget Consumer Reports

When it comes to finding the best value when shopping online, you’ll soon have some help.

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Within nine months, Walmart, Costco, Walgreens, FreshDirect, CVS, and Drugstore.com will make unit prices available online, as part of an agreement with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. But one of the Web’s largest retailers, Amazon.com, refused to take part, Schneiderman said. (Amazon already shows unit prices on some of its products.)

Under the agreement, Walmart and Costco will begin providing unit prices on their websites and mobile stores nationwide by the end of 2014. Walgreens, FreshDirect, CVS, and Drugstore.com will provide unit pricing online by March 2015.

"This agreement, in which government and the private sector worked collaboratively to adapt conventional rules to an evolving marketplace, is a victory for consumers," Schneiderman said in a prepared statement. "I commend these retailers for recognizing the need for transparency and promoting openness online."

Unit prices, already common in supermarkets and other walk-in stores in many parts of the country, are handy because they show the price of an item by the ounce, pound, quart, pint, or other unit of measure. That makes it easier to similar compare products in different-size packages to find the best value. For instance, at $3.58 a pound, 5-ounce cans of Sunkist tuna we found at one New York Target store last year was a better value than the 12-ounce cans, at $4.12 a pound. (This was one case in which the smaller package was a better value than the larger one, which although counterintuitive is common with tuna and some other products.)

Until unit price information begins to show up, you of course have the option of calculating them yourself. Simply divide the item price by the number of units in the package. So a 26-ounce bottle of dishwashing liquid priced at $2.60 has a unit price of 10 cents an ounce.

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For more information on unit pricing and saving at the supermarket, check out our "Supermarket Buying Guide."

Anthony Giorgianni

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