When you go to a supermarket, drugstore or convenience store, you assume the price you pay is the same as the price on the shelf sticker.
But our newest casual check confirmed what many shoppers fear: You are being charged more than the shelf tag.
Happens to Everyone
It's frustrating: You're standing at the cash register and notice something rang up at a wrong price.
Vonda Schloss said it has happened to her. "Yes, they have done that before and I had to tell them it’s a different price," she said.
It's also happened to Dorothy Trimm. "The stuff on sale they will ring up the regular price," she said.
And it happened to us, as we went into a number of stores with a hidden camera.
Counties Inspect Stores Annually
Hamilton County, Ohio Auditor Dusty Rhodes sends a team of inspectors to every store in the county each year, without advance notice.
Most states have laws requiring each county to perform scanner checks.
Rhodes said most stores have a 2 percent or lower failure rate, which means fewer than 2 percent of items rang up incorrectly.
That’s considered a "passing" grade.
But at some stores, the failure rate can be as high as 20 percent, especially during a sale period.
"We typically find the problem over the holidays or right after there is a big sale,” Rhodes said. “You expect to buy something, and the price rings up different, it’s an issue.”
Rhodes said he believes the mistakes are due to sloppiness – especially during sale events – not deliberate deception.
"Very rarely do we find a store that does not want to comply," Rhodes said. "They want to make it right, and that speaks to the quality of merchants in this area and people running these stores."
Stores Continue to Struggle
While it may not be deliberate, Rhodes' most recent 2013 tests show some stores continue to struggle with cash register accuracy.
At one supermarket, county testers found 8 percent of items there scanned wrong – and we had similar results when we went in with hidden camera.
Of 17 items we bought, five scanned at different prices.
For instance, Frosted Flakes were $1.69 on the shelf, but we were charged $1.79.
A rice mix was stickered at 69 cents, but our receipt showed we paid 79 cents.
At at office supply store, meantime,we overpaid for an iPhone speaker: The big shelf tag said $3, but it rang up for $4.
Rhodes said the tests are not a “witch hunt,” but rather a method to keep stores diligent and honest. He said without anonymous testing, mistakes could be more rampant.
"We want to maintain an honest market," Rhodes said. "That's the success of any free enterprise system."
As always, don't waste your money.
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