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Oct 15, 2008 07:35 AM

Mis-marked items at the supermarket- is it a crime?

Yesterday I went to my Stop n Shop that offers DIY scanning as you shop. I was looking for veal or lamb shanks when an old codger said, "look at the pricing on these! Surely, if you buy them, they will catch the mistake at the register."
They were marked at 2.5 cents a pound! I took three packages, equalling six cents for 2-1/2 pounds of lamb chops, and scanned them myself. During the checkout process the guard/helper at the self-service area even gave me fifteen cents credit because I was shopping with reusable bags!
I don't feel very guilty of a crime. Should I?

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  1. A very good question, though if I were you I'd start a new thread for it, it's too far off-topic for this one.

    But to answer the question, were you guilty of a crime? No, absolutely not. Should you have taken advantage of what was obviously a mistake? Here we get into the realms of morality. I'm not sure what I would have done in your position - probably exactly what you did. But what I'd like to think I would have done was to point out the error to the staff. Or maybe I would have done both - bought some first, and then pointed out the mistake. I know I have pointed out incorrect pricing in the past to store clerks.

    1. IMO mis-marking in the customers favor is pretty rare. No crime, just lax performance on someones part.

      I think that much 'overpricing' occurs when sale items are not retagged to the regular price later.

      MUCH MUCH MORE annoying to me is the ongoing plague of MISshelved/UNmarked/UNpriced items. Few stores have mid store scanners (I think my local Food4Less does) to verify prices.

      Most stores don't consider mispricing as important, as evidenced by the employee time wasted when you ask for a price check. If I'm unsure of the price, I don't buy the product - their loss.

      2 Replies
      1. re: DiveFan

        I agree, there are many more pricing issues that are to the store's advantage. Now that individual items are no longer marked the customer must rely on their memory. Need I explain unfair that is? Since I buy only a few things at a time, I am able to detect when I'm being overcharged. That is, when I remember the price of the item by the time I get to the check out. Then there are the times when I think I'm being overcharged but the computer is correct but the little price sign under the item belonged to a different item. People who purchase a cart load of items at a time can hardly be expected to notice being overcharged. Are the stores doing these things intentionally? Fraudulently?

        It's a sure bet that people who notice they are being overcharged are unlikely to say anything about a small difference in the store's favor because they don't want to seem petty. However, multiply that small amount by the hundreds of customers chainwide that get overcharged and then factor in how many items are concerned. Not so small after all.

        Should Scargod feel guilty of a crime? Was it a crime? Only if the state where the act was committed had a statute proscribing the conduct when it occurred.

        1. re: Kate is always hungry

          I know that advertising sale items, or loss leaders and not repricing such items in the computers was a problem years ago in Texas stores. So much so that they enacted legislation requiring stores to give you a rain check and make good on advertised pricing. Stores blamed bad pricing on human error and lacking time to get all the pricing changed in time. I haven't noticed this phenomenon so much lately. CT has a "get one free" law for consumable under $20.
          According to CT law I did nothing wrong by accepting the lower price. Still, I have the ethical dilemma of not saying anything to the people in the butcher's department.

          I found interesting articles about people making their own labels and cheating retailers
          Self check-out makes this easier but for high dollar items retailers may also have fake barcodes which really are the 58Khz Acousto-Magnetic tags.

      2. Feel guilty of a crime? Probably not.

        Feel that you knowingly took advantage where you knew what the better course of action was? Yep.

        Had the mistake been in the other direction (priced at $250 per pound instead of 2.5 cents per pound, say) you'd most certainly have flagged down a staff member if you wanted to purchase the product or if you simply felt that they should correct a clear mistake.

        1. Scargod, you are a friend and I know you to be a man of principles and integrity, and the purpose of your post is not to seek validation, but to serve as public penance for the sleaziest $20 you have scored in recent memory.
          Your manifestation of guilt is a good thing, but let my post be the swift kick in the arse by a steel toe Red Wing boot you additionally deserve...:)
          There now, you have paid your debt to society and you can sleep better tonight.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Veggo

            Wow Veggo, I'm going to read your post anytime I feel guilty about something so I can get immediate penance and sleep better! That means I'll be back to this thread several times a day...

            But dumb question. What does Detroit's hockey team have to do with anything?

            I would comment that I think Veggo is dead on about Scargod's motivation to post this topic. It is comforting to think that there are people out there who would feel guilt about $20. Goodness knows there are far worse crimes committed every day with far less remorse. And now I understand Scargod's post on the Home Cooking thread!

            1. re: moh

              He's talking about a work boot. Yes I feel a little guilty.

          2. For the record, I don't think it's a huge deal, the store would probably have honored the price anyway, and they probably expect that in situations like that many people would do as you did.

            You'd have to check the particular laws in your state to determine whether it's a crime, but I doubt it. More likely the store would have a civil cause of action against you (but highly unlikely that they would EVER pursue it due to the low amount). Non-commercial purchases are covered by general contract law and there has to be a "meeting of the minds" between the buyer and seller to have a valid contract. Generally, the marked or advertised price is a general offer by the store to sell at that price, to accept the seller's offer, buyer tenders payment as acceptable to the store and the store sells the item to the buyer. The problem in the store context is that generally, the store, having made a general offer, is not required to accept the acceptance of the offer by the customer. The store could, upon you trying to check out and tender payment, decline to sell the item to you. Here, because the terms of the "offer" (marked price) were a clear error (not only an extremely low priced, but also at a fraction of a cent which is not customary for supermarket prices), you probably have a duty to bring the obvious error to the store's attention and give them the opportunity to stand by their marked price or withdraw the erroneous "offer" and replace it with a new offer price.
            So the big question is - why wouldn't you bring the marked price to the attention of the store? Most likely it's because you knew or suspected that the store would agree it was a mistake and possibly refuse to honor the mis-marked price. Whether you feel bad about it or not is your deal - I usually inform the store of the mis-marked price and most stores honor price for me, but then go and check for any other mis-marked items on the floor. Also, why choose the check-out method that is least likely to inform the store of the mis-price? Probably because you were purposefully avoiding the clerk noticing the mistake and correcting it. If you noticed that someone had messed with a bag of something with a per-bag price (as in, put twice as much in the bag as should have been there), do you think it would be ok to do the same thing and use self-check out? I don't know...I certainly don't think it's bad to look for the biggest and best avocado when paying a per item price. What if the clerk gets the produce code wrong and rings up your expensive asparagus as cheap celery or your organic produce as non-organic? What if a cashier give you change for a $20 when you paid with a $10? I think the problem occurs when a normal person would recognize it (quantity, price, change) as a mistake.

            5 Replies
            1. re: akq

              At this store, I always use the self-scanning method and was well into shopping with this method when I found the meat. I didn't pick the process to obfuscate the pricing.
              I did wonder if I was on Candid Camera...

              1. re: Scargod

                Well, maybe not Candid Camera, but perhaps a psychological study. There have been a lot of social psych studies like this conducted.

                1. re: Miss Needle

                  Usually most supermarkets have a policy where they'll give you the item for the marked price. Or if the item is on sale but it comes up regular price, they give it to you for free.

                  I was shopping recently and picked up a few family packs of chicken cutlets. I didn't realize that one package was priced wrong until it came up as 1cent. I told the cashier that the price was wrong because the weight was wrong on the package, and she shrugged and just bagged it. I was pretty happy, because I got 2lbs of chicken for 1 cent (it's $8/lb regular)

                  1. re: cheesecake17

                    In many states it's the law that they have to sell you the item at the marked price. Another possibility is that this was an easter egg.

                2. re: Scargod

                  The tone of my post is way more judgemental than I meant it - I was trying to answer your question about the criminal aspect of the situation. I don't, personally, think what you did was particularly (if at all) bad, but I would have way too much guilt to do it.

                  A while back I saw part of a show (Oprah? Dr. Phil? Nightline?) where they set people up with ethical dilemmas like seeing someone drop a $20 or get too much change, and then filmed their reactions (did they keep it? did they give it back?). Then they tried to interview people about why they did what they did. Was pretty uncomfortable. Fwiw, I don't think your situation is even an ethical dilemma dramatic enough to be on the show (as in, I think most of the audience would do the same thing and also not feel bad about it in the context of a small amount of money). If you were in Home Depot and used self checkout for a new top of the line refrigerator marked with a 2.5 cent price tag, though, it might be a different story.

                  As a side note - it's interesting that the register knew to round up the fraction of a cent.