Scanner scandal: Prices changing from shelf to register

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Action News investigate the scandal at the scanner (Shutterstock)

Imagine going to the checkout line of your favorite store and suddenly realizing you're being overcharged for more than half the items in your cart, from power tools to t-shirts and grocery items.

That's what one Action News viewer says happened to him. So we decided to investigate.

Oxford Circle resident Terry Boyle is a retired machinist living on Social Security, who says he has to watch every cent.

"When I go shopping, with my fixed income... when I go to the cash register, I know how much it is going to be," Boyle said.

He shops with a pad of paper and a pen. Every penny is recorded on that list.

Boyle says he has noticed, time after time for more than a year, that his favorite drink mix is advertised at one price on the store rack, but comes up as another when he goes to the checkout.

"It's charging more than it was marked on the shelf," he said.

In fact, Boyle says, on a recent trip to the Target store on Cottman Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia he was overcharged for four of the seven items he purchased.

One item scanned a full dollar more at the register than was indicated on the shelf.

Boyle says he contacted Action News because each time he has alerted store managers to the problem, he has not been satisfied by their response.

"She said, 'There is nothing we can do. We already straightened out the price for you, so that's it,'" Boyle said.

In Philadelphia, there are no government inspections of store scanners.

So we tagged along with Camden County Weights and Measures investigator Scott Traynor to get to the bottom of the scanning scandal.

"Our fines can range up to $100 per item that's overpriced," Traynor said.

At four different stops, Traynor scanned the prices of at least 300 items.

At the Home Depot in Cherry Hill, Traynor was overcharged for two items, one for $1, the other for $5.

At a Kohl's store, three shirts all rang up at $5 over their listed prices.

At a Rite Aid store, nine similar items all rang up 20 cents over the advertised price.

And at a Walmart store, Traynor was overcharged for eight items. The discrepancies ranged from 27 cents to $5.02 above what was listed on the shelf.

"Stores are aware that we are looking, we are monitoring, and that there are severe penalties if they do not comply," said Camden County Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez.

Rodriguez says their inspectors are tasked with protecting the interest of consumers.

"Especially if you're not vigilant, they could definitely cost you thousands," Rodriguez said. "But that is what we're trying to prevent."

Action News reached out to all of the stores for comment.

Rite Aid said it believes this is an "isolated incident." The company said they "take price-scanning very seriously."

Home Depot called it "rare" and said they "generally honor the lower price."

Walmart said if "customers find a different price on the shelf... the lower price is the price the customer receives."

Kohl's did not respond to our request for a comment.

"I think this happens all too often, and I think many people trust scanners and should not," consumer advocate Lance Haver said.

Haver says a lack of enforcement in Pennsylvania may give retailers little incentive to comply.

"The law is very clear: whatever the price is marked, it is supposed to scan at that price or else there are consequences. The law is not being enforced, unfortunately," Haver said.

In fact, when we took Boyle back to Target to go shopping, five of six items he picked up - including his drink mix - were wrong.

Target tells us they "have processes in place to adjust items' shelf pricing," and if there is an error, they "will make it right for the guest at the time of purchase."

Even though Boyle says he notified them several times, the price for the drink mix still rang up wrong.

"I don't think it's fair to other people, and I shouldn't have to go through that either," Boyle said.

Our experts say you should always get your receipt, and check the prices when you check out. If something seems wrong, contact a store manager.

The Attorney General's office says as a courtesy the store should honor the lower price.


"It's rare that we have pricing errors, but if there's a price discrepancy between the shelf or display and checkout, we generally honor the lower price." - Home Depot

"Providing accurate pricing to our guests is important to Target. We have processes in place to adjust items' shelf pricing, however, there may be times when an error occurs and a product's price sign may not be changed within the right timeframe. If a guest notices a discrepancy, we encourage the guest to let a Target team member know immediately so we can ensure the correct price is listed on the shelf, and we will make it right for the guest at the time of purchase." - Target

"While we believe this to be an isolated incident, we take price scanning very seriously, having devoted significant resources and training to ensure accuracy. We strive for 100% accuracy, monitor our systems closely and our associates conduct random spot checks and internal audits. Errors are not intentional and when errors are found, we take immediate action to correct the prices and retrain our associates on our price change procedures." -Rite Aid

"Thanks for bringing this issue to our attention. We want to ensure that our customers have a positive experience when shopping our stores - and know that pricing discrepancies don't fit within that great experience. Should customers find a different price on the shelf than what they see at checkout, the lower price is the price the customer receives." - Walmart
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