Walmart, Costco agree to online unit pricing

Walmart (NYSE:WMT) and Costco (NASDAQ:COST) are among a small group of retailers that will add unit pricing to websites and mobile applications in a move aimed at allowing shoppers to better compare prices.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the initiative to bring unit pricing information to online supermarkets and drugstores. Within nine months, unit pricing will be available on the websites and mobile apps of Walmart, Costco, Walgreens, FreshDirect, CVS and Drugstore.com.

Amazon refused to participate in this consumer-oriented initiative.

"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 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."

Although Amazon displays unit pricing on some of its pages, it does not provide the information uniformly across its platforms. Amazon said 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, according to Schneiderman. It also would not agree to extend unit pricing to pages where that information is absent, nor would it commit to continue providing unit pricing information to consumers in the future.

Per-unit prices are clearly listed at the shelf in stores as required in 19 states and the District of Columbia, but were rare online. Only online grocer Peapod included unit pricing universally, according to Schneiderman. Peapod will be joined by fellow online grocer FreshDirect in the initiative.

"FreshDirect is an industry leader, and we were pleased that the Attorney General asked us to lead the charge to upgrade information to enhance customer knowledge in the online fresh food sector," Jodi Kahn, FreshDirect's chief consumer officer said.

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.

For more:
-See the N.Y. attorney general's announcement

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