My Purchase Rang Up Wrong! Could the Law Be on My Side?
Whether you coupon, frequent the sales, or just like to keep your eye out for everyday low pricing, most of us are very aware of what we pay for our purchases. As the economy continues to worry shoppers, we will become increasingly more conscious of the prices we pay for everyday items (toiletries, food, and medicines) as well as the big-ticket ones.
Despite our best intentions, however, pricing errors do occur. Whether you get overcharged for an item, pay for more than one of something, or simply find a discrepancy between the shelf price and the scanned price, there are some very important tips you need to know about.
Federal law protects consumers. While it has been awhile since the last Price Check report conducted by the Staff of the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology, it shows that the federal government has improper pricing and scanning on their radar. Weight and Measures officials tracked the accuracy of price scanners and register pricing in over 35 states to get the results revealed in the report. Pricing errors occurred more often in sale-priced items, and overcharges were slightly less common than instances of not charging enough. (Surprising, isn’t it?) The consequences for pricing errors can be a burden; In addition to lost revenue by not charging a customer enough (which is usually remedied less often than when a customer is overcharged), stores who display high numbers of pricing errors are subject to substantial fines or administrative and judicial orders.
State and local ordinances can remedy the problem. Once you have realized that you were incorrectly charged for your purchase, there are actions you can take to get your money back. At the time the study was released, not all states participated in the NCWM Procedure (which sets forth a method of sampling and verification for proper pricing and register scans.) States like Michigan, however, take the role of consumer advocate one step further. Their remedy (the Scanner Law) offers the following to overcharged customers:
- If a customer is charged more at the register than the item is marked, they may get back the difference plus 10 times the difference (up to $5) as a bonus. The bonus is only available if the purchase is completed; pricing errors that get corrected at the register and don’t result in overpayment are not eligible.
- Customers do not have to try to remedy the charges in store during their visit. Consumers have up to 30 days to ask for their money and bonus, and can do so with proper documentation via mail. The seller has two days to give your money back, and must do so in legal tender (cash), not gift certificates or store credit.
- If the seller refuses to pay the difference and the bonus, actual damages or $250 may be sought (whichever is greater) plus attorney’s fees up to $300.
- Multiple pricing errors on the same order will be honored by payment of the difference on all items, but only one bonus per order will be given.
- Certain items do not have to be marked. These can include vending machine products, items sold by weight that are not prepackaged, live animals, packages of 20 or fewer cigarettes, and greeting cards that have a readable coded price on the back of the card.
(Note: This is an example of the Scanner Law in the state of Michigan. To get the full details of your own state or local jurisdiction, please contact your local attorney general.)
This article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer explains a recent audit for Ohio retailers and their rate of accuracy in pricing (a very interesting read.) While it reports that pricing errors are fairly uncommon, I may have to take issue. (For those of us who regularly watch sale pricing, request ad matches, and coupon, the rate of error increases dramatically. Plus, I think that we are more inclined to watch for pricing errors and would be more likely to catch one if it did occur.)
Do you know the pricing law in your state? How have pricing errors affected you in terms of time and money? Has recent pricing errors caused you to change your shopping habits (i.e. choose the self-scanning register, shop online, etc.)?