Last week the BBC shone a spotlight on the issue of managing price tickets in today’s complex retail world. Following an under-cover investigation they revealed that in 33 out of 50 Tesco stores visited, multi-buy promotions advertised on the shelves were out of date and not applied at the till. In response to the findings, Tesco quickly said that they would check the pricing in all of their stores.

While Tesco got caught out in this exposé, the sheer volume of price tickets and promotional labels on supermarket shelves in combination with ever-changing offers and prices means it is virtually impossible for retailers to ensure that every single ticket on every single shelf matches the price in the EPOS system all of the time.

For the uninitiated, the average supermarket has 25,000 products on its shelves. Each and every one of those products needs a clear and accurate price ticket underneath it. Managing the millions of paper price tickets in circulation is akin to a military operation – every time the price changes at head office, hundreds of thousands of new price labels are printed, organised and distributed throughout the store network. Then a small army of staff are employed to comb the aisles displaying the new labels on the shelves. Given the challenges involved in this operation, frankly it’s amazing that the prices are as accurate as they usually are.

Of course, this isn’t an argument which is going down well with the average shopper or indeed Trading Standards (who require that accurate prices are displayed). Martin Fisher from the Chartered Trading Standards Institute said “I would really hope that Tesco are out there on their own on this. I would hope that other stores have better systems to check and feed-back and learn from their customer complaints.”

But better checking and responding to customer complaints aren’t the ideal or the best way to improve accuracy: Electronic shelf-edge labelling systems (ESL) have the potential to reduce pricing errors and will almost certainly replace paper tickets and promotions in UK supermarkets over the next few years. In fact, SFD Systems’ electronic shelf labels, which are currently rolling out in the UK and North America, support automated digital compliance checking meaning retailers could eliminate pricing errors. By knowing exactly where a price or promotional ticket is on the shelf, the product on display and the price in the central ePOS system our technology continuously checks for accuracy and will flag or correct errors in real-time. Meaning no more price inaccuracies and no more worrying about undercover reporters.