Price check – how accurate is your supermarket scanner?

Introduced more than three decades ago, the grocery checkout scanner has dramatically increased the speed in which consumers have processed their transactions. While retailers have become completely dependent on them, there are no assurances that the computerized pricing and scanning systems are accurate. Therefore, it is left to the consumer to be observant at the checkout line.

Most major supermarkets have grocery scanner accuracy policies that guarantee consumers are charged the correct amount for items purchased. Although they may differ, it is important to research the stores scanner accuracy policy to determine what they are and how they impact your shopping experience. Most policy statements are posted near the cash register. If not, inquire as to the store policy on scanner accuracy and become better informed.

If the supermarket you frequent has a scanner accuracy policy and you catch them making a mistake – speak up! While Walmart recently rescinded its scanner accuracy policy allowing for $3 off your purchase price on incorrectly scanned items, the policies of Albertsons and Publix allow one free item exclusive of alcohol, tobacco, and some dairy products. For Winn-Dixie shoppers, no such scanner accuracy policy exists. If you catch Winn-Dixie overcharging you, they will adjust the purchase price.

There are simple steps consumers can take to avoid paying the wrong price. First, consumers can watch the display screen for prices as they are scanned. If an error occurs, consumers should immediately point it out to the cashier, ask about the store’s policy on pricing errors, and request that the appropriate policy adjustment be made prior to completing the transaction. Although some supermarkets simply adjust the price, other stores may offer a bonus, such as giving the consumer one free item. This is especially true at Albertsons and Publix.

If the supermarket is having a sale, consumers should bring a copy of the store’s flier or newspaper ad to the checkout counter and compare prices as they are scanned. Some advertised specials – for example, a two-for-one promotion – may not be in the computer and must be entered manually by the cashier. These types of promotions merit particular attention from consumers to ensure they are charged the correct price.

Mistakes on grocery scanners are more common than people realize. A recent Consumer Reports survey found that approximately 6 percent of items were incorrectly priced at the scanner. As such, it is important for consumers to know the price of the merchandise they are purchasing for comparison at the scanner. Even after leaving the checkout line, or the store for that matter, consumers can review their receipt and identify and report errors to the store manager or customer service desk for a refund.

In Florida, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is responsible for checking the accuracy of price scanning devices. Department inspectors randomly inspect scanner systems throughout Florida using a nationally developed procedure for determining accuracy. Stores that fail to meet the adopted 98 percent accuracy standard due to excessive undercharges are inspected at an increased frequency. Stores that fail to meet the standard due to excessive overcharges face sanctions ranging from warning letters to fines of up to $5,000. Moreover, any errors discovered during an inspection must be corrected immediately.

Consumers who notice a pattern of scanning accuracy errors in a particular supermarket should also speak with the customer service department or the store manager. Consumers can also write a letter to the company’s corporate headquarters. If the store refuses to correct the problem, call the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ toll-free hotline at 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or visit their website at to file a complaint.


William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity. To learn more, tune into “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis,” a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues on AM 1470 WWNN.

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