Bad Pricing: Epidemic or Fluke?

Twice in the last two days I’ve caught programmed cash registers scanning a different price than was clearly advertised. Once was in a fairly nice restaurant that added $2 to the price of a glass of Bourbon; once was in a sporting goods store that added a $1 to the price of a pair of rubber boots.

Maybe it’s just a fluke, and I only took note because it happened to me so close together in time; but maybe it’s an increasing problem as more pricing gets automated without effective checks and balances; and just maybe it’s not a mistake at all but a deliberate and dishonest way to raise prices.

At least the boots had a clearly marked price tag I could point to at the cash register. However the bourbon was particularly insidious. If I hadn’t carefully compared and thought about all nine different bourbons and their proofs and prices at the start of the meal (yes, I’m a bit of a bourbon nut) I wouldn’t have noticed the pricing error at the end. Even then, I had to ask for the bar menu again to check my recollection.

Supermarkets are notorious for charging different prices at the register than you find on store shelves. I’d hate to see this nefarious practice spreading, but it may be inevitable as automated payment systems, debit cards, and scanners make it easier than ever to hide what yolu’re really paying.

2 Responses to “Bad Pricing: Epidemic or Fluke?”

  1. Tim Says:

    Around here there is a voluntary “Code of Conduct” (or something like that) where any retailer saying they follow the code is required to give you the item for free if you point out a scanning error (or else they aren’t following the voluntary code, not sure if there are any repercussions). Places like Safeway say they follow it, and I have heard of people getting items for free.

    Something like this might be a good way to force retailers to be more strict about scanning errors, hit them in their profits, that will make them take notice.

  2. Elliotte Rusty Harold Says:

    The FTC and NIST looked into this in 1996, and found:

    Overall, the results of the study are fairly positive for consumers. The inspection results showed that the total number of undercharges exceeded the total number of overcharges. Of the 17,928 items checked, 2.58 percent scanned lower than the posted or advertised price and 2.24 percent scanned higher than the posted or advertised price, for a total error rate of 4.82 percent. The total dollar amount of undercharges also exceeded the total dollar amount of overcharges. Nonetheless, consumers who are being overcharged are not likely to be mollified by the knowledge that other consumers are being undercharged.

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