Coles Express called out by consumer watchdog over petrol prices

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Coles Express is pumping out the highest petrol prices in Australia’s capital cities, with rival Woolworths and independent chains generally the cheapest, according to new data published by the consumer watchdog.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) claims that motorists can make significant savings by shopping around for cheaper fuel and showing less loyalty to certain brands.

The ACCC’s report details annual average retail prices throughout 2017 and identifies the highest and lowest priced major retailers in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.

The difference in prices on average across retailers ranged from 9.5 cents per litre recorded in Sydney to 3.6 cents per litre in Melbourne in 2017, the ACCC said.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said the analysis shows the range between major retailers with the highest average price and lowest average price varied across each city considerably, with BP and Caltex also called out for charging Aussie motorists too much.

“Independent chains were the lowest priced in each of the five major cities and Woolworths was generally below the market average price in most cities,” said Mr Sims.

“Average prices at Coles Express were the highest in all five cities, and average prices at retail sites where BP and Caltex head office sets the retail price were generally above the market average price.

“The majority of consumers tend to go to the same petrol station every time they fill up. This research shows it might be time to consider which station to fill up at.”

The analysis focused on the five largest cities because they generally have a larger range of prices and more retail sites than smaller capital cities such as Canberra, Hobart and Darwin, as well as regional locations across Australia, the ACCC said.

The research shows that Coles Express had the highest fuel prices across the five major cities, with United Petroleum, 7-Eleven and smaller chains such as Liberty, Vibe, Speedway and Metro also price-competitive.

Coles defended its pricing regime, which see customers receive discounts on fuel as long as they shop in Coles supermarkets.

“In addition to the 4c-per-litre discount voucher received when spending at least $30 in Coles supermarkets, customers can save 10c per litre by spending a minimum $20 in Coles Express stores,” a spokesperson said.

“The discounts can be used separately or combined to save a total of 14c per litre.”

The importance of shopping around

The ACCC’s report also examined the difference in average prices in 2017 with those in 2007. It found the range between major retailers charging the highest average price and those charging the lowest average price had increased significantly during this time.

The average prices of BP-branded retail sites were above the market average price in all five cities in 2007 and 2017. The average price of Caltex-branded sites were above the market average in the majority of the five cities in the two periods, the consumer watchdog reported.

“What this analysis tells us is the decision about which retailer to buy petrol from is even more important in 2017 than it was in 2007. Retailers’ prices are not the same, they price differently and have different strategies to get you to fill up with them,” Mr Sims said.

“We want to remind drivers there are plenty of apps they can download for free that will tell them where to buy the cheapest petrol in their area. Many people are paying more than they need to for petrol.”

“Shopping around has the added benefit of increasing competition by putting pressure on retailers who charge the most to lower their prices or risk losing customers,” Mr Sims said.

There are a variety of fuel price websites and apps that provide information to motorists about petrol prices, including: the NSW FuelCheck website and app, the Northern Territory MyFuel NT website and app, WA FuelWatch website, MotorMouth website and app, and apps operated by GasBuddy, the NRMA, 7-Eleven and Woolworths.

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