It pays to keep eyes open for price mistakes at till

WHAT if you spot your favourite brand of coffee marked at a good price on the shelf, but at the check-out till the jar scans as R8 more – can you demand that you be given the coffee at the shelf price?

According to Consumer Goods and Services Ombud Neville Melville, yes, you can.

“Our understanding is the transaction is concluded when the consumer places the goods on the check-out counter,” he said.

The Consumer Protection Act states that retailers don’t have to honour prices which are “obviously” wrong, as long as they take reasonable steps to inform the customer of the mistake and take steps to rectify it.

Melville said it’s too late for that if the customer has already got to the till point with the item when they are told of the mistake.

But most price mistakes between shelf and till are not the obvious kind. For example, coffee marked at R8.99 on shelf by mistake and then ringing up at the till as the correct price: R89.99.

They are usually management inefficiencies – a “promotional” price not being programmed into the till – and because it requires the shopper to remember what the shelf price tag was, and then to notice the discrepancy at the till, most go unnoticed, and the shopper loses out.

If you do notice, never be embarrassed to speak up, ask for a manager and insist on being given the item at the shelf price, no matter how many grumpy-looking people are standing in the queue behind you.

And here’s what you really need to know – two major supermarkets have gone one step further on the wrong-price-scanned issue, compensating customers. (See sidebar)

But it seems to me that they aren’t doing much – or anything at all – to make their customers aware of this, so many routinely lose out.

Hazel Ogg told In Your Corner that twice in one week the “3 for the price of 2” specials on vegetables were scanned at the full price for three items at the Westville Mall of Woolworths branch recently.

The first time the cashier noticed, and the second time, Ogg picked up on the mistake.

“Both times the duty manager was called and reversed the cost.

“The second time it happened, I suggested that twice in a week was unacceptable,” Ogg said. “The manager shrugged and said it was a problem with head office and suggested that I contact them.”

No mention of the “if it scans wrong, get it free” policy.

Even more worrying, when Ogg called Woolworth’s customer care line, the person she spoke to didn’t mention the compensation policy either.

So I asked Woolworths if it had done away with its policy.

“Our pricing policy has not changed and remains consistent for both foods, as well as clothing and general merchandise,” a spokesman told me.

“It would appear that the policy was not followed in our Westville Mall store and as a result, we will send reminders to stores to ensure effective execution of this policy.”

“Woolworths will be directly contacting Ms Ogg shortly to apologies for the error and will compensate her in full.”

It seems the customer care division could use a copy of that policy, too.

Store managers appear to need regular reminding of the policy and how to implement it.

Last January, Frank Meulenbeld said when he noticed that he was overcharged at a Cape Town branch of Woolworths Food, he pointed it out and a supervisor was called over.

“I asked if I would receive the item free, as per their policy, but he said their policy had changed and they no longer give the item free.”

Either that supervisor hadn’t been trained properly, or he just made that up on the spot.

Bottom line: for reasons best known to the retailers, products scanning at the till at a higher price than that displayed on the shelf is a fairly common occurrence.

And if you’re routinely not making a note of shelf prices and not paying attention at the check-out – focused on your phone instead of on the till display, perhaps – sooner or later you’re going to be overcharged.

It pays to be alert, and to know, if you spot an overcharge, not only what your legal rights are, but what two major South African retailers have implemented as overcharge compensation policies.

When prices don’t match

You’re legally entitled to the lower price if an item scans at the till at a higher price than what appeared on the shelf.

But both Woolworths and Pick n Pay have compensation policies.

WOOLWORTHS:

You get the item free, and any additional ones of the identical type at the lower price.

PICK N PAY:

They used to have the “first one free” policy that Woolworths now has, but a few years ago, diluted it to “Double the Difference”: If any item scans at a higher price at the till than displayed on the shelf, the customer gets double the difference between the right price and the wrong one.

But does the till know?

Many a promotional price isn’t scanned into the supermarket till, so customers get overcharged, mostly without realising it. It pays to note the shelf prices, and to keep a keen eye on the till display – and to know that some supermarkets will compensate you if they get it wrong.

CONTACT WENDY:

E-mail: consumer@knowler.co.za

Twitter: @wendyknowler

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