The government launched Precios Claros (“Clear/Transparent Prices”) today at 8 AM, an online price index of supermarket products across the country meant to control price increases in supermarkets by allowing consumers to select the most competitive goods and stores. The idea was announced back in February but don’t get too excited just yet: as of the writing of this article, the website doesn’t quite work and you can’t see the information. Awkward.
Let’s look at what the idea behind the website is, anyway. Clear Prices is an initiative launched by the National Directory of Consumer Protection in order for citizens to have access to more information when making decisions on buying their groceries. Supermarkets are expected to update the online prices daily in order for the consumer to compare products and buy accordingly. Consumers will supposedly be able to compare prices across 109 categories, or between 1, 800 and 5,000 products per supermarket. The expected total number of products whose prices will be in the system is set to be over 23,000.
The way it will work (when the site finally starts cooperating) is that every consumer will provide their address and select categories of interest such as “Meat” or “Hygiene.” Once the category has been selected, consumers will be able to compare the prices of the same product (which is brand and size specific) in up to 30 supermarkets in their area (initially, four come up). In addition, inconsistencies can be reported and supermarkets that do not comply can be sanctioned.
According to the National Director of Consumer Protection, Fernando Muiño, who is in charge of this new system within the Ministry of Production:
“This is a huge advancement in the empowerment of consumers through information and the collaborative work of the State with civil society.”
In addition, the system will allegedly function as a price control mechanism as the government will also be able to ensure that prices are not indiscriminately jacked up and cause an inflation rate above the State’s goal of keeping it at 25 percent for 2016 (tough luck: we’re already at a 40 percent annual inflation rate, but so it goes). Back in February, President Mauricio Macri also said that he would reinstate the Defense of Competitive Prices Committee, an entity that will be dedicated to finding and consequently sanctioning businesses that unnecessarily hike prices.
“We want to highlight the high level of professionalism of the team from the Modernization Ministry and the Commercial Secretariat, that have shown just how efficient the State can be because nothing was outsourced or subcontracted, this is the fruit of public workers’ efforts,” said Juan Vasco Martínez, the head of the Association of United Supermarkets (ASU).
Sounds good, right? Now it just has to start working.
There have been various protests under the established hashtag #SuperVacíos (#EmptySupermarkets) as unions, politicians and citizens have called for nationwide strikes against big supermarket chains in order to draw attention to the staggering increases in consumer good prices, which are often unrelated to inflation and point more to supermarkets taking advantage of a difficult economic climate.