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10 tips

Don't get overcharged at the checkout line

Consumer advocates estimate that shoppers get overcharged millions of dollars each year because of electronic scanning errors at the checkout line. The following tips can help you make sure you're charged the right prices the next time you head out to the grocery store or the mall.

By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2003


1. Understand how mistakes can occur. Electronic scanning can go awry for a variety of reasons, including inconsistencies between advertised or posted prices and prices stored in the computer, inaccurate prices throughout a chain of stores because of an error in the central computer, and slip-ups by shoppers who may not remember posted prices or special promotions when they check out.

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2. Keep an eye on the display screen. Get in the habit of watching the cash register's display screen as your items are being scanned. Try not to become distracted.

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3. Speak up right away. If you spot a price discrepancy, ask the cashier to adjust the price before you pay. Also ask about the store's policy on pricing mistakes: Some simply correct the price, some deduct an additional amount, and some will give you the mispriced item for free.

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4. Be prepared. If you plan to take advantage of an advertised special, bring a copy of the store's flyer or the newspaper ad to the checkout counter. The special price may not be stored in the computer, so the cashier may have to enter it manually.

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5. Plan for spontaneity. If you spot reduced prices for items while you're strolling through the store, jot them down. That way you'll be equipped with the most up-to-date pricing information at the checkout line.

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6. Check your receipt. If you forgot to monitor the cash register's display screen, take a moment to scan your receipt before you leave the store. If you notice a mistake, ask the cashier, a customer service representative or a store manager to correct it.

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7. If you spot the mistake at home, you have a decision to make: Let it go and allow yourself to be overcharged, or return to the store and speak up. As frustrating and time-consuming as it may be, going back to the store may be the best course of action for yourself and your fellow consumers.

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8. Complain effectively. If you observe a pattern of scanning errors in a particular store, approach the customer service department or the store manager and explain the situation calmly.

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9. Write a letter. Also consider writing to the retailer's corporate headquarters. The retailer may not have any idea that a problem exists at a particular store in its chain.

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10. Know where to turn. If your efforts to resolve the problem don't work, you can file complaints with the Better Business Bureau at (800) 955-5100, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at (800) HELP-FLA (435-7352), and the Federal Trade Commission at (877) FTC-HELP (382-4357).

-- Compiled by Laura T. Coffey. Sources: Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov); Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org)

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