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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Wendy Hamblin, coordinator of the Free Store at St. Timothy’s St. Anglican Church, shows off a couple of coats ahead of the Coats for All 2020 campaign, which kicks off Nov. 1. (Kelly Sinoski photo, 100 Mile Free Press).
Wanted: warm coats for all

Annual campaign kicks off to collect winter outerwear

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
Motorist unintentionally rescues bald eagle from the side of Highway 97

The driver of the minivan believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

School District 27 Supt. Chris van der Mark. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
COVID-19 takes bite out of SD27 enrolment

Fewer students at schools, but homeschooling up

Kaiden Davidson (centre) smiles as he uses a fire hose with the help of his dad Dustin Davidson and Forest Grove firefighter Andrew Grey. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Fun and fire safety at Forest Grove

Fire safety took centre stage at the Forest Grove Volunteer Fire Department’s open house Saturday.

RCMP
Lockdown drill at Peter Skene Ogden

Police staged three scenarios with students and staff

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

More and more electric cars are on the road, but one Chevy Bolt owner was shocked to see how much his BC Hydro bill skyrocketed once he started charging the vehicle. (Black Press file photo)
Lower Mainland man sees significant spike in BC Hydro bill after buying electrical vehicle

An increase should be expected, but Brian Chwiendacz experienced a 200-plus per cent hike

The Anonymous YVR is an Instagram page that reviews restaurants and other establishments around B.C. based on how well they adhere to COVID-19 rules. (Instagram)
Anonymous Instagram page reviews COVID-19 safety measures at B.C. businesses

There are a number of public health orders various types of establishments must follow to slow virus’s spread

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Jordan Naterer, an electrical engineer from Vancouver, was last seen Saturday Oct. 10. (Facebook photo)
Search efforts to resume for missing Manning Park hiker; Trudeau speaks on case

PM says he’ll do what he can to ‘nudge’ efforts to find Jordan Naterer, yet has little leverage locally

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

Most Read