Fair measurement for shoppers

Rules for consumer protection are needed to ensure that buyers of goods get a fair deal. Today in Britain there are many organisations that aim to protect the consumer and these organisations face a wide range of issues ranging from mis-sold financial services through safety issues to scams with timeshare holiday flats. Unfortunately no consumer protection organisation has taken seriously the fact that measurement unit confusion in Britain can result in a bad deal for the consumer.

In most countries, there are few consumer protection issues associated with measurement; one single system of measurement is in use and there is little room for confusion. Britain has carelessly opened the door to misleading practices with its painfully slow and incomplete transition from imperial to metric.

There is no fundamental difference between pricing in metric and imperial providing only one system is used consistently everywhere. Today’s mixture of metric and imperial units makes it tempting to choose a unit in order to appear most attractive. Thus since a pound is less than a kilogram, or a litre is less than a gallon, advertising the same price in terms of the smaller unit means that the quoted price has a smaller number and thus seems cheaper. Thus 40 pence per pound gives the impression of being less than 88 pence per kilogram even though they are the same price!

Why else were filling stations so keen to replace gallons with litres in the 1980s? Why were some traders so reluctant to replace pounds with kilograms in the 2000s?

With offering price reductions the converse is true. Offering 18 pence off a gallon of petrol sounds like a better reduction than 4 pence off a litre although equivalent. Furthermore since a customer cannot relate the gallon reduction to the litre price at the pump he or she really does not know what they are gaining.

Given this situation, the UK Metric Association (UKMA) aims to stand against practices that exploit confused measurement to the detriment of the consumer. Furthermore UKMA stands for improvement of current British regulation to ensure better consumer protection.

UKMA stands for four key principles to protect the consumer with respect to measurement:

  1. Standard units of measurement to allow accurate comparison of like goods with like;
  2. A standardised unit price to support price transparency;
  3. Standard units of measurement and clear rules for quantitative information in product descriptions and adverts;
  4. For goods measured at the point of sale: properly calibrated measuring instruments to ensure that what is measured fairly represents what is requested.