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

First Past the Post is the only option

Letter to the Editor by Dieter Bogs of Trail

Acid tainted vehicles from Trail spills, held for evidence

Contaminated vehicles are evidence in ICBC’s lawsuit against “negligent parties”

Kootenay Boundary swears in 7 new directors

Regional District of Kootenay Boundary swears in 7 new directors and 6 returning directors

More Kootenay-Columbia students for a third straight year

Enrolment across School District 20 is up 175 students since 2016

Stolen vintage motorcyle returned undamaged in Nakusp

The thieves were unable to start the antique racer and abandoned it in a vacant Nakusp garage

Fashion Fridays: 5 coats you need this winter!

Kim XO, lets you know the best online shopping tips during Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

B.C. to fund gender-affirming surgeries for transgender people

Roughly 100 people in B.C. travel each year out of province for lower surgeries

U.S. mayor and dying dog’s roadtrip to B.C. goes viral

First vacation in three years came a month after blood cancer diagnosis

Federal fall update expected to offer more support for struggling news industry

Ottawa committed $50 million over five years for local journalism in ‘underserved communities’ last budget

UK’s May appeals to public on Brexit, braces for more blows

British Prime Minister Theresa May answered questions from callers on a radio phone-in, the day after she vowed to stay in office

VIDEO: Stan Lee leaves posthumous message for his fans

Marvel Comics’ co-creator died on Monday at the age of 95

Woman searching for father last seen in Nelson in 1999

Johnson’s daughter, Chandra Machin, is searching for her father

$136M in transit funding coming to B.C.

The announcement was made at the BC Transit yard in Langford on Friday morning

Ottawa apologizes to Japanese family in B.C. after chopping historic cherry trees

Plaque installed in Prince Rupert to honour the memory of Shotaro Shimizu

Most Read