Raleigh, N.C. — When buying an item at a store, how many people make sure the price at the register matches the price on the shelf? Those who don’t pay attention could be paying too much. The WRAL Investigates team found that some North Carolina stores are ringing up the wrong prices.
State inspectors examined prices at more than 2,200 stores this year and found that nearly 10 percent were overcharging customers.
Several local stores had some of the worst inspection results in the state this year. Walmart on New Hope Church Road in Raleigh, for example, failed three consecutive inspections, ringing up almost $5,000 in fines before finally passing.
During Walmart’s second inspection, the price of a ceiling fan was off by $30. The shelf price listed the fan at $19.99, but it rang up as $49.97 at the register.
Ronnie Abbott is one of 15 inspectors with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services who are responsible for ensuring that the shelf price matches the register.
“I have had error rates as high as 32 percent,” he said.
WRAL Investigates spent the day with him as he inspected three Raleigh stores – Target at North Hills, Carquest on South Wilmington Street and Kmart on Western Boulevard.
From health items to crayons and office supplies, Abbott used a hand scanner to capture each item's bar code and keyed in the price on the shelf. He then went to the register to see what price rang up there.
Target passed, missing one out of 100 items. At Carquest, the results weren't as good.
“They had $6.99 on the shelf, 13 quarts of oil there, and it actually rang up at $8.99,” Abbott said.
Three of the 50 Carquest items rang up incorrectly, leaving the store with a 6 percent error rate. Anything higher than 2 percent is a failure, according to Abbott.
“They’re obviously very disappointed, because they have people they have to answer to. So, they’re not excited about it, but they know they’re treated fair,” he said.
Kmart on Western Boulevard also failed with a 5 percent error rate.
“Most of the stores are generally cooperative,” Abbott said. “It’s not a case of intentionally overcharging. It’s usually a case of carelessness or (they) didn’t get their price changes done.”
The Carquest and Kmart stores told WRAL Investigates that they take pricing errors seriously and try to quickly resolve any problems.
Walmart on East Gannon Avenue in Zebulon failed three straight tests, accruing more than $3,000 in fines. That includes a base penalty, plus $15 for every item on the shelf that had the wrong price.
“I think it was honest, not intentional, but it’s still your money,” said shopper Linda Perry.
Shopper Rasheema Wooten says she notices wrong prices at the register “all the time.”
“Then they have to go back and look (at the shelf price), and it’s wasting your time,” she said.
Many shoppers say they don’t pay attention, including Jace Kerrin.
“I guess I do (trust the scanners), yeah. I actually like to bag my own groceries, and I bring my own bags with me, so I don't even watch what they're ringing up. I just assume that it’s OK,” Kerrin said.