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Shrinkflation is real. What is it, and how can you combat it?

Maliya Ellis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Fashion Daily News

"A 10% product size shrinkage is equivalent to an 11% price increase, but most people wouldn’t really think of it that way,” a Pitt marketing professor notes.

A mini bottle of Dawn dishwashing liquid, with its signature blue color and cute duck imagery, doesn’t raise many eyebrows. To notice its secret, you’d have to squint: the bottle contains 6.5 fluid ounces, down half an ounce from its 7-ounce predecessor. But the price point is the same.

It’s just one of many recent examples of “shrinkflation,” the phenomenon by which companies covertly downsize the volume of their products without changing the price tag, effectively raising prices without setting off consumers’ alarm bells.

Though shrinkflation is not new, it’s proliferated in response to high inflation, as brands try to retain profits despite higher costs for ingredients, labor and shipping. Inflation climbed to 9.1% in June, its highest rate in 40 years.

Over the past few months, shrinkage has been documented in products from shampoo to toilet paper and breakfast cereal to dog food, according to Consumer World, a consumer advocacy site. A box of “family size” Cocoa Pebbles contracted from 20.5 ounces to 19.5 ounces. Charmin Ultra Soft’s “super mega” rolls shrank by 30 sheets each. Chobani scaled down its flip yogurts, once 5.3 ounces, to just 4.5 ounces.

The bottom line: if your weekly grocery haul isn’t lasting as long as it used to, you’re not imagining it. Shrinkflation could be to blame.

 

“It’s legal to cut package sizes — just buyer beware,” says Jeff Inman, a professor of marketing at the University of Pittsburgh, pointing out that companies don’t publicize their price increases, either. But Inman acknowledged that shrinkflation can come across as “a little sneaky” to consumers.

“It’s mainly the fact that it’s less noticeable, is the reason they do it,” says Inman. All else equal, he says, “a 10% product size shrinkage is equivalent to an 11% price increase, but most people wouldn’t really think of it that way.”

Consumers are far more likely to notice a price hike than a volume decrease, especially for products they buy often, says Inman. Though both actions result in lower sales, a price increase has four times the negative impact on consumer behavior than the comparable volume decrease would. “That’s huge, right? I really think it comes down to people just not noticing.”

Inman himself has been noticing shrinkflation since the 1980s, when he started spotting slimmed-down candy bars and air-filled potato chip bags. Lately, he’s seen shrinkage across a “broad array” of products due to high inflation.

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