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Guest Opinions

Are You Paying The Right Price At The Store? Price Verification And Scanner Accuracy

Written by Wyoming Department of Agriculture

The Wyoming Department of Agriculture (WDA) conducts a variety of inspections within the Technical Services Division. One such activity covered under the weights and measures program is the Price Verification Inspection program.

As you have noticed, technological advances have provided the retail industries to utilize the Universal Product Code, commonly called a UPC, which uses a barcode on the package. The barcode is then read by a laser scanner at the checkout to extract the price of that item from the store’s database, and track inventory.

Handheld laser scanner units are also used to track inventory on the store shelves and to verify that the correct price is listed on the shelving for customer convenience. Many smart phones have the same program that allows the public to scan bar codes and price check items between stores online in real time.

There are many benefits to using this UPC barcode system. Individual items do not need to be separately priced, and for stores with multiple locations, one person and one computer can change the prices of any item in any of their stores.

However, a lot of the information provided to the stores may be hand entered by a person, or the store shelves and advertising may not get changed when the prices of the items being sold have been changed in the database. This human element of potential error for retailers creates public concern about price accuracy in retail stores.

Wyoming law states:

Statute 40-10-125. Misrepresentation of quantity or pricing.

(a) No person shall:

(i) Sell, offer or expose for sale less than the quantity represented;

(ii) Take more than the represented quantity when he furnishes the weight or measure by means of which the quantity is determined; or

(iii) Represent the quantity in any manner tending to mislead or deceive another person.

(b) No person shall misrepresent the price of any commodity offered, exposed or advertised for sale by weight, measure or count, nor represent the price in any matter tending to mislead or in any way deceive another person.

Therefore, WDA has the authority to conduct inspections at any retailer that has a point of sale cash register and scanner system to verify the accuracy of pricing within the store. In a nutshell, the advertised price – whether on a label on the shelf, a banner or a poster at bulk bin – is the price by which a store is required to sell the item for.

The procedures WDA uses for price verification applies to all retail stores, including food, hardware, general merchandise, drug, automotive supply, convenience and club or other stores that use UPC scanners and price-look-up codes at the check-out counter as a means for pricing. It is the goal of WDA to maintain consumer confidence in retail pricing practices and technologies, such as scanners, and provide economic benefits for consumers and the business community. The purpose of the procedure is to ensure that consumers are charged the correct price for the items they purchase.

Accuracy information, based on a percentage of errors found in a sample and the ratio of overcharges to undercharges, constitutes useful criteria for evaluating the “pricing integrity” of the store. The consumer should keep in mind that pricing errors can occur, and those errors can be both overcharges and undercharges. As with any weighing, measuring or pricing system, there is a “tolerance” applied as no system no matter how good will ever be 100 percent accurate. For a retail store to “pass” inspection the pricing integrity needs an accuracy requirement of 98 percent or higher during a single inspection.

If you, the consumer, should encounter a pricing error from the advertised price to what a scanner shows on your cash receipt, the first and best course of action is to address this immediately with the store personnel. More often than not, the store will do what they need to keep their customers happy.