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Make sure the right price is on what you buy

As retail stores gear up for the busy holiday season, the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services urges shoppers to pay attention at the register to make sure sale items are ringing up at the right price.

“We have 21 inspectors throughout the state that inspect price scanners at grocery stores, discount stores and large-format retail stores as a part of their job,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “Last year we inspected about 3,000 locations across the state. On average, about 6 percent of stores will fail their inspection.”

The NCDA&CS Standards Division conducts periodic, unannounced inspections of a business’ price-scanner system to check for accuracy between the prices advertised and the prices that ring up at the register. If a store has more than a 2 percent error rate on overcharges, inspectors discuss the findings with the store manager and conduct a more intensive follow-up inspection at a later date. Undercharges are also reported, but do not count against a store. Inspectors try to inspect stores every 18 months.

For drug stores and dollar stores, 50 items are scanned in the initial inspection, and 100 items are scanned at grocery stores and large-format retail stores. If the store fails, inspectors return for a 300-item inspection. If the store fails this inspection, it receives a fine of up to $5,000. Stores are fined a $150 administrative fee and then $15 for every item that is overpriced on the shelf. Any fines paid by stores go to the local school system.

“Consumers are generally more aware of prices during this time of year because a lot of them are shopping for the sales,” said Jerry Butler, measurement section manager. Shoppers should pay close attention to the prices on the shelf, especially sale items. Butler explained that businesses used to change prices at the store level, but now this is often done at the corporate level, with prices downloaded right into the store’s price scanners. Stores may not be as quick to change the prices on the shelf.

“Most stores want the customer to be happy, and in our experience errors are more often due to disorganization, not dishonesty,” said Butler. “If you go to them with a complaint, they will usually correct their action.”

Consumers can contact the Standards Division at 919-707-3225 to register a complaint.“You can find our phone number on the inspection sticker of every scale in grocery stores and on gas pump inspection stickers across the state,” said Butler. “If you see a problem that the store won’t correct for you, we will check it out for you – that’s our job.”

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