Squawkback: Are you being overcharged at the grocery register?

Grocery price scanners. They’re supposed to make buying food at the register fast, easy, and accurate. But it never fails. I guesstimate every 12th or so grocery item in my cart is scanned incorrectly, overcharging me.

Since I watch closely, I can’t help but notice how many scans are inaccurate and ding me extra dollars. Just last week I corrected the busy cashier on three items which scanned and overcharged me $4.23. On a grocery bill of $63, I was overcharged 6.7 percent of my total grocery bill. Yikes!

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I admit it’s hard to watch my groceries scan. There’s a lot to do at the till. I have to ready my reusable grocery bags, then bag my groceries, then pay the bill. But for me, making the effort to watch my wares ring through is worth it. So I wonder…

Question: Are you ever overcharged at the grocery register? Do you watch your groceries scan? Do you say anything?

Fox’s Answers:

  • Yes. I always watch my groceries scan at the register. I have my eye on every scanning detail, and count every over dinged dollar.
  • Accuracy is hit and miss. The most inaccurate scans tend to be on sale items, produce, and non-packaged foods.
  • I correct all false scans. I must admit, I feel kind of foul telling the cashier something scanned inaccurately, especially when there’s a line-up behind me. But hey, it’s my money.

Got some thoughts on scanning at the register? Share your scanning wins and woes!

Your two cents:

  1. Margaret December 3rd, 2008

    WOW!!! That is a lot. I watch the scanning of my groceries very closely but rarely have I found mistakes; maybe once in 150 shopping trips.

  2. marci December 3rd, 2008

    I always watch! Since most of what I buy will be sale items or those with coupons, I also watch the coupons ring in.

    I’d say one out of 25 items will be wrong. If they say they can’t correct it, then I tell them I can’t buy it! I do not hesitate to leave something on the counter if it won’t ring in right.

    Yes – it pays to watch!

  3. Jennifer December 3rd, 2008

    Absolutely I watch! As I shop I do try to take mental notes of prices. When they are scanning, I do watch out for anything that seems fishy. It’s hard when you have a quick person though because by the time you see what they scan and how much it is they are on to the next thing. I also watch carefully sometimes because I’ve also caught times where they accidently ring up the same item twice. I usually say something unless I think that perhaps I was wrong (looked at wrong price tag or something).

    I especially do that at clothing stores too. Since I buy most of my stuff off of clearance racks or sale racks, I’ve had to stop cashiers many times because something will ring up full price when it is supposed to be on sale. If it “wasn’t supposed to be on the clearance rack”, I usually don’t get it.

  4. julia1211 December 3rd, 2008

    Yup, I watch the prices because I’ve seen it wrong often enough. And, if they scan the wrong price, they give the item for free! So yes, I do say something coz I’d feel ripped off after if I don’t.

  5. guinness416 December 3rd, 2008

    I don’t, but my husband is an absolute hawk with this (bizarrely, because he’s not money conscious generally). And yeah he catches stuff scarily often, especially double scans where something gets entered twice by accident. He does it with any products though and was practically over the counter at Old Navy the other day buying boxers (“is that on sale?” “where’s the discount indicated?” “that’s supposed to be two for twelve dollars!”)

  6. sara l December 3rd, 2008

    I either watch or check my receipt before I head home. I’ve also been using those self scan things (not out of choice) a lot recently. They keep you aware of how much you’re spending. I’d say once every 2 months I get overcharged.

  7. Susy December 3rd, 2008

    I always watch while checking out. Our grocery stores give you the item for free if it rings up wrong. We have one big grocery store we got to occationally and they ring up wrong more often. Our small local store rarely rings things up wrong.

  8. Liana December 3rd, 2008

    Many stores don’t make it easy to see the display as the prices ring up. If they don’t, I say speak up about that as well. As a result, I step away from the cash register after I’ve checked out but before I exit, and scan my entire receipt. Sometimes I find that there was something else resting on the produce scale when they weighed something (these can be difficult to catch unless you know how much it is *supposed* to weigh). Other times they forget to deduct a “buy one get one free” item. One store in town mischarged me every month for 4 months and I simply don’t shop there anymore. Good stores will correct the problem the next time you visit if you don’t discover the discrepancy until you get home.

  9. Lotte December 3rd, 2008

    One thing I have noticed is that you have to watch the cashier when you are buying reduced price goods (ie those with a sticker saying “reduced for a quick sale” or “50% off regular price” some such in the grocery store). We buy these occasionally if it is something I will use that day. And often they will ring it through at a regular price or not take the 50% off.

    I don’t so much watch prices at the till on regular priced stuff (but do check my receipt afterward), but I watch them like a hawk if I have any reduced priced items going through.

  10. Marcia December 3rd, 2008

    Yes! I watch regularly. But strangely, I have this one problem, with 2-3 stores. Always Ralphs, sometimes two other stores.

    It’s onions. I eat a lot of brown onions – cook with them in about everything. The regular store price is 1.00/lb. They go on sale from 0.40 to 0.60/lb. So I will stock up.

    every. single. time. that I go to Ralph’s, they charge me for Vidalia’s, which are $1.59/lb.

    Sadly, I usually realize this when I’ve already lugged my groceries AND my 30-lb toddler to the car. So I rarely correct it.

    I just buy all my onions at the local produce stand. I figure if I’m going to pay $1.00/lb, I might as well get local and organic!

  11. Melanie Samson December 3rd, 2008

    I try to watch, but I have to admit I’m nearly vigilent enough. My problem is that I have no memory for numbers and I forget how much everything is supposed to cost. If something was way out of whack, I’d notice. But any small difference I just won’t notice. I should bring a notepad to write down the sale prices.

  12. Sagan December 3rd, 2008

    I usually watch pretty carefully- but they’re usually so slow at putting things through that I don’t think they COULD mess up.

    That’s a lot of money, though! Ack. Will definitely be paying more attention now.

  13. Al Pal December 3rd, 2008

    I have always kept one eye on my bill – mistakes happen all the time and I find it unacceptable. My personal favourite was when I was charged $39.99 for a jar of applesauce. That is $38 more than the actual price. Imagine! I still shake my head at the inaccuracy.

  14. me myself & I December 3rd, 2008

    Another thing I have to keep on top of is coupons. I have noticed on several occasions that when I have a lot of coupons, easily one or 2 don’t go through, but the cashier doesn’t pick it up. In the meantime, I can see that he/she is passing it across the scanner, but the discount does not come up on the screen. It can be difficult and they get a little pissy when I tell them that they missed one, because then they have to go over all of the coupons to figure out which one was missed. But hey…it’s my money…

  15. Derek December 4th, 2008

    At the one grocery store near where I used to live they have really nice LCD monitors that show all the items scanned(up to 30 or so) in a similar format to a receipt with the total price at the bottom so I found it really easy to find mistakes. Where I am now as they ring in the prices it will always show the full prince all the discounts are taken off at the end after all items have been input, that makes it harder to find any problem.

    Usually it is on sale items where I see the errors occur.

  16. Treva December 4th, 2008

    I’ve noticed it’s a much bigger problem at “lower end” grocery stores. I shop wherever I can get what I need at the lowest price, but there is one particular store where every 4th or 5th item is wrong. In order to make sure I was right, I actually wrote down each item I was purchasing and then the price listed on the shelf tab. Then I placed my items on the belt in that order (just 15 or so items) and watched as 4 items were anywhere from 50 cents to $2 off. That’s a margin of error too high for me and so I no longer shop there. Speaking with the store did nothing to resolve the problem; they have almost no overhead, keep items as low as possible, and as few employees as absolutely necessary to get the job done. In other words, they are not going to change their system. But I’ve not noticed this to be a problem at the other stores — just at the lower end stores. Yeah, from time to time an item is off, but never every 4 or 5 items.

  17. Lise December 4th, 2008

    I try to watch, and have caught a few errors, but I’m not diligent about knowing what the exact prices should be.

    I once had some deli turkey breast ring up at $19.95 a pound! I think I only noticed it because there was that extra row of digits, however; they could have overcharged me by even a couple of dollars and I probably wouldn’t have noticed.

  18. Fabulously Broke December 5th, 2008

    BF and I check the bill EVERY SINGLE TIME

    And 1 out of every 3 times, we get a problem with the scanning. They put the prices of the food in KG but then charge in LB, and since we buy a lot of fresh food, we have to keep the numbers straight in our heads

    They screw us on onions, mushrooms and peppers mostly. Oh and tangerines.

  19. No More Sugar Daddies December 7th, 2008

    I always watch the register. Just last week Whole Foods rang up two of my products higher than priced. I had the lady adjust it, but come on Whole Foods is already way overpriced. Things like that should not be happening there.

  20. Jude December 9th, 2008

    The few times I noticed I got overcharged, you can bet that I said something. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with bringing it up regardless of how long the line is. It’s their fault.
    But if you pull out a checkbook when there’s 5 people behind you, then that’s a different story.

  21. Lori December 9th, 2008

    Wow! I’ve checked my grocery receipt now & again; never have I watched as the items are scanned. Usually too busy fumbling around finding my debit card in the bottomless pit of a purse I haul around.

    Sounds like I should start paying more attention. I don’t think it is rude to ask for verification if you believe an error was made.

  22. Jenni December 12th, 2008

    I watch for them, and if I don’t catch it at the register than I go to customer service. I lay my bag on the counter of all I got, and show them the receipt of the mistake. They have given me the difference back. I write right on the item the price on the shelf price, then if they have a problem with it and somebody to go check, it is right there. This has happened at other stores, besides groceries, where if scanned item is different from the shelf price you get it free, which some have that policy, and you take it up with customer service. Enough people showing up there they should notice to make the changes on the cash register. You know?

  23. paul January 11th, 2009

    Most of the stores I shop at have a scanning code policy that gives you the first item up to $10 free if it scans at more than the posted price. With stores changing pricing quite frequently to stay inline with competition it PAYS to keep your eyes open and be aware of prices.

  24. Shaniqua September 25th, 2009

    I don’t think anyone mentioned the Scanner’s Code of Practice. For more info go to http://www.retailcouncil.org/advocacy/cp/issues/scanner_acc/print/scanner_accuracy02_eng.asp

    It basically says that if your bill states the incorrect price compared to what the shelf price was, you get the first item free if it’s under $10, or $10 off the price for more expensive items, and the retailer will refund the difference if you’ve bought more than one of the incorrectly charged items. But you have to go through the till first and pay. Then go to customer service to get it corrected/refunded.

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