Attention shoppers: NC stores could be overcharging you
Posted November 25, 2013
Updated December 12, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — Every year, hundreds of stores across North Carolina overcharge customers for their purchases, according to data from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
State inspectors do random checks to make sure the prices on shelves match what rings up at the register, but the WRAL Investigates team found that shoppers still need to pay attention when they check out.
The state inspected scanners at 1,805 retailers from Nov. 1, 2012, to Oct. 31 of this year and reported that 110 stores – or about 6 percent – failed. At each store, inspectors check 50 to 100 items on first pass. A 2 percent error rate or higher is considered a failure.
State inspector Bryan Moore recently visited a Toys"R"Us at Crossroads Plaza in Cary, where he found an 8 percent error rate.
Among the problems was a $69.99 scooter that rang up $79.99 at the register and a monster truck track kit valued at $19.99 that scanned as $29.99 at checkout. Toys"R"Us now faces a 300-item re-inspection and the potential for fines if the store doesn't pass next time.
Toys"R"Us spokeswoman Katie Reczek said the price discrepancies were largely due to products being put in the wrong place on the shelves. "Our Cary store team has worked diligently to ensure products are placed in their proper locations as we move forward during this busy holiday season," she added.
Moore also recently checked a Kmart on Western Boulevard in Raleigh, which failed its previous two inspections when more than 2 percent of its checked items rang up above the shelf price. Kmart was ordered to pay an $870 fine in those cases.
On the day Moore visited, however, the store passed with a zero percent error rating.
“Overall percentage, most (stores) do fairly well,” he said.
Moore is one of 21 inspectors who check scanner accuracy at retailers across the state. He recommends busy shoppers keep track, especially during the holiday season when sales and deals are rampant.
“They have old signage tags, (and) they forget to pull them off,” Moore said. “When you have your items scanned at the register, just take your time and watch the price as the item is being scanned. And if there is a discrepancy, let the cashier know right there on the spot.”
A Walmart in Knightdale failed two straight inspections last year until correcting the price scanner problems. In one case, a bike that was priced $89.97 on the shelf rang up $124 at the register – a $35 overcharge.
State inspection supervisor Wayne Compton says he suspects stores’ price problems are due to disorganization, not dishonesty.
“They miss too many things. They let too many things fall through the crack, and it goes unchecked,” he said. “A consumer should be aware.”
Walgreens on Timber Drive in Garner failed three straight inspections. Among the problems, inspectors documented 20 undercharges, but those don’t count against the store. Only overcharges can lead to inspection failure.
Shopper Andrea Finucane says she has caught overcharges while shopping, but it’s difficult to be diligent.
“I do my best,” she said. "Obviously, having kids, it’s a little hard to do sometimes.”
N.C. Department of Agriculture officials estimate they inspect major retail store price scanners once every 18 months. Besides store inspections, they also check out holiday products, such as a turkeys, hams and candies, to verify that they are weighed and priced correctly.