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Farewell to the agora and the phenomenon of prices that can't be paid
By DAVID BRINN AND DANIEL K. EISENBUD
01/01/2014
Tomatoes at NIS 5.46 a kilo? Instant coffee for NIS 19.99? Not any more. From Wednesday, the price has to be rounded up or down.
 
The end of one year and the beginning of another often bring changes and bittersweet farewells to longstanding traditions.

For Israelis waking up on Wednesday, one of those “end of an era” changes will have gone into effect. It won’t cause any cataclysmic tremors, but it will mark the demise of a signpost that has accompanied the country on its historic journey from fledgling nation to international superpower. As of January 1, prices of consumer goods that include agorot can no longer end in any digit but a zero.

Tomatoes at NIS 5.46 a kilo? Instant coffee for NIS 19.99? Not any more. From Wednesday, the price has to be rounded up to NIS 5.50 or down to NIS 5.40 for those tomatoes, and NIS 19.90 or NIS 20 for the java.

The Consumer Protection and Fair Trade Authority will begin enforcing the law, levying fines against businesses that continue to end prices in single-agora or five-agorot increments. The reason? The relevant coins have been out of circulation for years – the agora since 1991, and the five agorot coin since 2008.

Before Wednesday, most consumers wouldn’t think twice about paying NIS 30 for an item priced at NIS 29.99. However, this form of overpricing snagged the interest of Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who initiated the “0.99 reform” last year with the aim of saving consumers money – even if it’s only a few agorot.

“We were told it would not work, we were told that it will cause retailers to raise product prices upward,” Bennett recently wrote on his Facebook page. “Quite the opposite. Yesterday my wife received a new coupon booklet from one of the pharmacies. And lo and behold: Prices have fallen.”

According to Bennett, the savings add up. He used the example of purchasing 30 products and saving NIS 3, an amount that would reach into the hundreds of shekels over a year of purchases.

“This saves money for us, the citizens,” wrote Bennett. “This primarily educates the market: We are done being suckers. You can no longer present us one price, and charge us a second price, and make a huge profit that accumulates in between, at our expense.”

At Marlak, a bustling 24-hour convenience store in downtown Jerusalem, neither employees nor customers seemed too concerned about the pricing revolution.

“I know about this because I work here and my boss needs to change the prices, but I don’t give a you-know-what,” said cashier Sharon Twito.

“We have bigger problems, like Iran. So this isn’t so important.”

Customer Guy Hemo, age 21, apparently unaware of the potential savings, also dismissed the reform as a generational concern.

“Many people my age don’t really care about this because they don’t think about it,” said Hemo. “It’s older people in their 30s and higher who care because they have more to worry about, like paying important bills. So prices being increased from NIS 2.99 to NIS 3 probably bothers them. But people my age don’t care so much about one agora since we’re just buying beer and food.”

But, whether they know about it or even care about it, shoppers will feel the effect of the agora pricing reform, which forever dumps into the trashcan of Israeli peculiarities the price that can’t possibly be paid.
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