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With food prices the way they are these days, if you see a mistake, don’t hesitate to alert a clerk or manager

Sylvain CharleboisIf you’re not checking your grocery receipts for errors before leaving the store, chances are you’re overpaying for some of your groceries, especially for discounted items.

In the U.S., some states have tried to put a number to the problem of receipt discrepancies. The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Standards Division collected fines – the average fine was between US$40,000 to US$50,000 – from dozens of Walmart stores due to pricing errors over the course of 2022.

The agency found about 26 percent of price scanner inspection failures. The technology itself was an issue, not human error. The department also detected that in roughly 10 percent of cases, at least one item was overcharged for one reason or another. Ten percent!

Shock surprise

Photo by Ospan Ali

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Aldi in Australia recently got into some hot water when consumers took to Facebook to share easy-to-spot errors the grocer was committing. Worse, errors were repetitive. In the same country, at Coles Supermarkets, it was revealed that an automatic discount was issued to regular shoppers who were mistakenly charged full price on previously discounted items. The chain even spontaneously printed the word “apology” on receipts.

In Canada, few know how significant this problem is, but mistakes on grocery receipts do happen, and they happen for a variety of reasons. For one, cashiers or other employees may accidentally input the wrong item or price into the system. Also, the store’s technical equipment may malfunction, leading to incorrect pricing or item information, especially on items that are either volume discounted or even “enjoy tonight” deals.

Price discrepancies are also quite frequent. Stores may update their pricing regularly, especially these days, leading to differences between the advertised price and the actual price charged at the checkout. Scanning errors may also occur when an item can be double-scanned.

Another common mistake will occur even before you show up at the register. While shopping, you may think you’re reaching for an item on sale but end up with a higher-priced item because a clerk stocked the shelf with the wrong product.

Mistakes on receipts can happen for countless reasons, but some people never check receipts. Anywhere from 35 to 45 percent of Canadians rarely, if ever, verify grocery receipts for errors, according to estimates, while about 30 percent of consumers will always check. Many don’t bother because they feel rushed or can’t pay attention for one reason or another. Some opt to use self-checkouts for that exact reason.

The onus is on you to be extra careful.

Consumers who are more vigilant and check for mistakes will likely save more money. But as a shopper in Canada, you do have rights if you see a mistake at the grocery store that ends up costing you more.

Many years ago, the Retail Council of Canada, along with the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, instituted a national scanner price voluntary code. Consumers are entitled to a discount of up to $10 for each scanning error at participating food retailers, including Walmart, Sobeys, Loblaws, Costco, and Metro.

In Quebec, it’s the law: grocers must give the discount. But in the rest of the country, retailers should comply with the code and give you a discount and are obligated to display a description of your rights as a shopper at checkout areas.

The pressure of exiting the store as soon as possible, coupled with bagging items yourself, means that errors can be overlooked. With food prices the way they are these days, if you see a mistake, don’t hesitate to alert a clerk or manager. And don’t wait until you get home. Few will go back or will forget about it.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

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