Canadian grocers make $3M per year from penny-rounding: UBC study

Ottawa announced plans in 2012 to phase out the copper coin

Grocery stores across the country are cashing in on the demise of the penny, according to a young researcher at the University of British Columbia.

Third-year economics and mathematics student Christina Cheng has written a paper that says Canadian grocers are making $3.27 million per year from penny-rounding.

Ottawa announced plans in 2012 to phase out the copper coin, and as a result, cash purchases are now rounded up or down to the nearest five-cent increment.

Cheng wanted to know whether the change was benefiting shoppers or stores.

“Penny-rounding always becomes a guessing game,” the 19-year-old explained. “It’s a fun guessing game because it might not hurt in the short run, looking at several cents, but in the long run, I wondered if this actually accumulates.”

Curious, she decided to use her spare time outside of class to investigate.

First, Cheng enlisted a friend and they spent about a month and a half documenting more than 18,000 prices at grocery stores, taking pictures of price tags and entering the data into a spreadsheet.

They found that most prices ended in .99 or .98 — numbers that would result in bill totals being rounded up for cash transactions, if tax is not applied.

Cheng took the data and used a computer simulator to create “grocery baskets” with various items. She adjusted different variables such as the numbers of items and amount of taxes, and factored in data from the Bank of Canada on what payment methods consumers are most likely to use.

Cheng said her analysis found that grocery stores are profiting from penny-rounding.

In the end, Canadian consumers don’t end up paying much extra, but the rounding on cash transactions can mean big money for grocery retailers across the country, with each store standing to collect $157 per year, Cheng said.

In October, a paper Cheng wrote on the research won a competition for the best undergraduate student paper at the International Atlantic Economic Society’s conference in Montreal. Her study is slated to be published next June in the Atlantic Economic Journal.

The Retail Council of Canada disagrees with Cheng’s findings, said Karl Littler, the group’s vice president of public affairs.

The study’s methods don’t reflect real grocery baskets or take into account the impacts of various provincial taxes on bill totals, he said, noting that the average grocery bill is $53 and consists of a larger number of items than Cheng’s simulated baskets included.

Littler said the council’s members have reported anecdotally that penny-round is about 50-50, with half of the bill totals being rounded up and benefiting stores, and the other half being rounded down and benefiting consumers.

“There’s no nefarious plan here to scoop pennies,” he said.

Cheng said she isn’t looking to demonize Canada’s grocery industry, and simply wanted to look at an issue that affects most Canadians on a daily basis.

Her work on penny-rounding was all done outside of class time as a labour of love, which Cheng said really surprised her professors.

“Tying research with application is what I love to do,” she said.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Bighorn sheep stars of weekend festival in Radium

Headbanger Festival November 2nd-4th

Voting for diversity on council

Discussion raised at Invermere all-candidates forum

Imagine Invermere forum

Invermere candidates speak up

Q&A with candidates at Canal Flats forum

Almost 17 per cent of eligible voters turn out to hear candidates speak

New fuel for fire departments

Valley rural fire departments looking for new recruits

B.C. NDP retreats again on empty-home tax for urban areas

Rate reduced for all Canadians, dissident mayors to get annual meeting

Jets score 3 late goals to beat Canucks 4-1

Winnipeg ends three-game Vancouver win streak

Two B.C. cannabis dispensaries raided on legalization day

Port Alberni dispensaries ticketed for “unlawful sale” of cannabis

Canada not sending anyone to Saudi business summit

Sources insist Ottawa never intended to dispatch a delegation this time around

Earthquake early-warning sensors installed off coast of B.C.

The first-of-its kind warning sensors are developed by Ocean Networks Canada

VPD ordered to co-operate with B.C. police watchdog probe

According to the IIO, a court is ordering Vancouver police to co-operate with an investigation into a fatal shooting

B.C. woman looks to reduce stigma surrounding weed-smoking moms

Shannon Chiarenza, a Vancouver mom of two, started weedmama.ca to act as a guide for newcomers to legal cannabis, specifically mothers

B.C. teen gives away tickets to Ellen Degeneres show, plans O Canada welcome

The Grade 9 student wanted to give away tickets in the spirit of inclusivity

Most Read