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

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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 http://www.ct.gov/dcp/lib/dcp/pdf/fac... 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 http://www.wired.com/techbiz/media/ne...
          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.
          Veg

          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.

              2. Jfood agrees with akq inthat you were looking for a little pentinence by posting here so you are already feeling the guilt (good thing) and now looking for what to do next time (also a good thing).

                There are two levels of this question.

                1 - What if you notice that a six pack of TP scans at $4.59 instead of $4.69. Would you go to the Customer service counter, wait in line to give the store $0.10. Likewise the converse, if it scans at $4.79, would you demand the $0.10..
                2 - Your case in which there is a significant difference in price.

                Over the years jfood has watched the check out people scan thousands of items and he is very confident that about 2% are incorrectly scanned. Some are higher and some are lower, and since he shops in the same store 5-6 times per week, he believes in the Law of Large Numbers and he/store are probably even up on question #1.

                Wrt (sorry for that, it's shorthand for with respect to) the second question. Jfood would have paid and then brought to the attention of the store. Dollars to donuts the store would have thanked you, told you to please keep them at the scanned price and immediately sent someone top the meat counter to change the price on the remainder. Jfood does not believe that the store would have performed the No Good Deed Goes Unpunished scenario of repricing your package, in fact that might be illegal in many states.

                BTW - there was a story on the net yesterday where a gas station employee mis-priced gas at $0.395 per gallon versus $3.95. Owner couldn't figure out why he became such a popular place. Duh.

                1. Don't feel guilty, most mega-marts will give you the item free if it's mis-marked. You did well, enjoy.

                  1. Scargod, yes you should!

                    BAD! BAD! BAD!

                    There. Feel better?

                    1. Crime? No. Do we live in a civilized society? Apparently not.

                      I was at a restaurant once when the waiter gave me more change than I had given him for the bill. I guess you would pocket the money and post a question at CH. I told him his mistake and he gave me my correct change, much less than he originally gave me.

                      Different persons, different levels of "sleeping well at night".

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: PeterL

                        PL, I respectfully submit that your "guess" that scargod would pocket the money, is way off the mark and you are unfairly painting him with a black brush. He and I have off-board exchanges, and we did on this one. (we have never met). His rationalization, which he admits is a bit tortuous, is that he never returns or later complains about "foul fowl, funky fish, abominable avocados" , from this same store.
                        I will vouch for his moral compass.

                        1. re: Veggo

                          I am sorry, I don't know anyone here except for what is posted on the board. How is what he/she did different from my situation? A mis priced item from the store, or a mis-handled cash transaction. Either way it does not belong to me, and I would return it. I would never take advantage of such situations.

                          What if you have your child with you at the market. What are you going to tell your child about this situation? Look honey, someone made a mistake and we got something for almost nothing. Or, look honey, someone made a mistake, but we never take advantage of things like this, and I am going to tell the manager. What would be your choice?

                          "Greed is good"? Look at our economy and the stock market, and tell me if you agree with that statement.

                          1. re: PeterL

                            PL, I don't disagree with anything you have said. You may have noted that I was the first to mildly excoriate the poster for allowing the event to occur. Scargod can speak for himself, but I sense a high degree of contrition and if he could have a do-over, it would go differently. I think this forum provides a chance for many of us to "re-calibrate our instruments" based on reasoned opinions.

                        2. re: PeterL

                          I am not sure that the situation of a server giving the wrong change is exactly analogous. That is human error, plain and simple, and it could even be that the difference would have come out of his pay or tips. OTOH, while the mis-marking involves human error to begin with, it is ultimately the result of a corporate decision to try and replace the human (who undoubtably would have caught the error), with a machine! If they are going to rely on machines to do the scanning with no human checker, I say they deserve the occaisonal mis-scan and have to take the potential loss as a cost of doing business. Besides, you would have a tough time convincing me that the machine didn't make an error in the other direction just as often. Of course, if it was a big error like this one, the customer would presumably call it to the attention of someone if it wasn't in the customer's favor, but I can imagine there have been many times when the machine has been off by a few cents either way and the customer (who is probably trying to avoid longer lines with checkers to begin with: otherwise, why the heck would they go to self-scanning?) just didn't bother with it. And then, of course, there is the situation where the customer entered a wrong item (for example, at my local store, if I purchased regular lettuce, but entered it as organic, I'd be charged more, and if I didn't have my reading glasses on I might not even notice!).

                          But then, if you can see I am annoyed, it is because I just came from the local Raley's, where I tried to self-scan and gave up after four items. First of all, half the items (yes, two of the four!) were not in the machine and I had to hand enter the code. Even the slowest checker is faster at that than me, and in the case of one item, it told me the code didn't exist!. Even more annoying, there is a motion sensor that goes off if you try to put anything in the bagging area before it is successfully scanned. Unfortunately, that includes paper bags or bags you bring yourself if you don't want to use the plastic they have set out there...and if your shopping cart is full there is no place BUT the bagging area to put bags you are bagging.

                          So screw it, this may be a minority opinion but I say any store who has a self-scanning system, assuming it is as un-user friendly as the one at my local store, deserves what they get if they mark items wrong. Scargod, don't feel guilty. Think of it as a way to do your bit to bring back your local checker and to (re)create jobs.

                          1. re: susancinsf

                            I feel your pain and totally agree with you...big surprise! :-)

                            The other day I was at a store (Albertson's) where there were NO, repeat NO, checkers on duty....so everyone was on the self-scanners...and the lines were ridiculous. I asked someone working if they could open up a real lane (I don't mind the self-scanners if I have a few items, but hate the way they make you use their bags as you noted...plus in this case I had some very heavy items and there was no way I wanted to lift them and try and scan them...). Anyway, when I asked to open a real lane they looked at me as if I was somehow asking for the moon...is this the future of retail?

                            BTW, I ALWAYS check the price as it is being scanned to insure against over-charging. In particular I make a mental note of sale items, as the sale amount is often not entered. I catch an average of one mistake of this nature per visit to the store....so clearly there are a lot of people being overcharged without realizing it.

                            Albertson's has a policy that if you catch them over-charging for an item because it is incorrect in the scanner you get it for free...I wonder if that applies to under-charged item?

                            PS: I've never caught an under-charged item. FWIW

                        3. Well, chances are I would handle it quite differently... I would probably have loaded my cart with about ten pounds worth, gone through the self-check, paid the bill, THEN gone to the store manager and said, "Ar you guys sure this is the right price?" Then, if the store manager says, "Good lord, those are supposed bo be $2.50 a pound!" and asks me to pay the difference, I can tell him I've changed my mind and don't want them. But if he says, "Wow, those are supposed to be $2.50 a pound. You go on and I'll correct the error right away and thanks for bringing it to my attention." then I get to go home with a ton of great meat and a clear conscience! '-)

                          1. I have experienced this dilemma from the other end. One of my first jobs was as a deli clerk. Once in awhile the deli helped out the meat department with jobs. I was asked to run the shrink wrap machine on some trays of ground round. Afterwards I was to put the stickers on the meat. The job was all set up for me and I got it done quickly. I think there were two batches. As I was putting out the second batch in the meat section a middle aged woman informed me that the meat was mis-marked. The ground round was going for chuck prices. She took about four packages and then told me she was buying these and then telling the manager. I told the meat manager who pulled the rest of the packages to be repriced. She disliked me anyway and gave me quite a lecture even though I had not set the price on the machine. Then the manager came back and yelled at me too. It was an awful place to work. They used to force you to punch out for lunch and then work most of your lunch break anyway. I foolishly tried to argue that one. Even the owner, a woman with a thick accent of some sort, used to mock me for not being willing to "help out" and work when I was not on the clock. Anyway I don't think they ever asked me to help out in the meat department again, "my" mistake made me even lower on the pecking order and (i was pretty young) I hated the woman who had brought the error to the attention of the powers that be after she had gotten her good deal. I think I stuck it out there for another month before I finally couldn't take it anymore. From my point of view I wish the woman had quietly pocketed her savings. She seemed very smug about the whole thing like she was having way too much fun.

                            1. Scargo, Stop&Shop is not losing any money, believe me...Think of it as your scan-your-own discount. What makes me mad is when S&S OVERcharges for items (charges more than they are marked). In Connecticut the consumer is entitled to that item free, but how many consumers catch S&S in THEIR crime? The Royal Ahold (parent) execs are laughing at you from their yacht at the vacation villa. Feel no guilt. Call it Karma

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                Sales were only up 1% at S&S last quarter (year over year) and they reported $36MM lower operating earnings than the same quarter inthe previous year.

                                Jfood would rather them make a profit as opposed to closing stores. And calling a mismark a crime seems a bit hyperbolic, don'tcha think?

                                1. re: jfood

                                  BiscuitBoy would love to have that 1% increase in his pocket, and 36M lower than last year doesn't equal loss....And techcnically, in CT, it IS a crime, or else a state law wouldn't exist:

                                  http://www.ct.gov/dcp/lib/dcp/pdf/fac...

                                  While I visit S&S often, and would not want to see them close (well maybe 2 in one town is too many) I can't get upset about a few soup bone bargains

                                  1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                    Thanks BB, did not know the 2006 law enactment. Good to see your and jfood's tax dollars at work. Maybe we can sell t-shirts to that effect in the parking lot. :-))

                                    If you are looking for the "soup bones" check out the circular. These are the loss leaders for the week. Jfood always takes advantage of these lower prices, especially for staples. He gets the strangest looks when he buys 4 12-packs of Quilted Norhern. Almost wants to say that the jfood family is doing a group colonoscopy the following week.

                                    And you do "pay" for the "convenience" of the slef-check out lanes every time you hear those words "please wait for assistance". Urgh

                                  2. re: jfood

                                    ITA, jfood.

                                    You can't justify bad behavior because you are committing it against a large corporation or some other evil entity. YOUR motives are what counts--you are responsible for your own soul.

                                    1. re: coney with everything

                                      Bad behavior is parking in the handicap spot, bad behavior is littering, bad behavior is being a CEO of a large bank and asking the government for a handout because you were greedy.....Bad behavior is NOT getting a deal on lamb bones. BiscuitBoy will not be going to the hot place upon his demise (Ideally)

                                      1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                        True on all your examples, but bad behavior also includes taking over-advantage of situations which includes taking 20 pounds or taking all the wrapped little mints from the cashier bowl at a Chinese restaurant. Oh, and going to the customer service desk to tell them of the mistake or telling the cashier the mint bow is empty does not undo the bad behavior.

                                        There is the letter of the law to uphold and also the spirit of being a member of society to uphold. The former is in black and white, the latter, sometimes you have to look internally for the standard one sets.

                                  3. re: BiscuitBoy

                                    Hey BiscuitBoy, as someone who works in a grocery store, whether the item is over marked or under, it isn't intentional. Most large groceries use complex data systems to make sure that everything rings up period, has a tag that has all of the product info, etc. and those data systems make mistakes. As you've pointed out, lots of states have laws that then grant the customer the item for free(excepting alcohol, at least in WI), and regardless of laws, any store that gives a rats rear about business should have the same policy. If any grocery store execs are yachting, trust me it isn't on a "miss-ring" dime. More likely they vay-kay at the expense of employee well-being, by not paying living wages or offering benefits, etc.

                                    1. re: MissMethuselah

                                      I used to work at a grocery store too, and while I know the chain didn't purposely mismark items, the system in place makes it very easy to do so....and correct the issue. So why do I have to argue with a manager or CDH, every time I'm overcharged? They know the regulations better than me. And I also agree it's a hard way to make a living unless you're in the meat department, or a store manager. No union where you are, Miss M? No benefits?

                                  4. Boy, wish I'd caught those- I went into Stop and Shop a while back, looking for lamb chops, and they had them marked "Porterhouse steak", $11.99/lb", shoulder lamb chops which obviously don't look anything like Porterhouse steak. I think they hire just anybody, and they don't know or don't care what they're doing, plus the fact that they have been bringing in pre-packaged meats which I'm sure ticks off the union guys (butchers) so they have even less motivation to do a good job. Needless to say, I passed on the lamb that day

                                    1. you shoulda bought every package they had and frozen at will.

                                      Such is life.....the world will still spin.

                                      1. When we've alerted the meat department at our local Publix to a product labeled at far too low of a price, their attitude has generally been to thank us, tell us to take the mislabeled stuff we need as a sort of 'bounty' for catching the error, and then correct the rest of the lot so that future shoppers pay the correct price.

                                        But then we've got a good relationship with the employees at the store. We're low maitenance regulars in a location that can be 75%+ high maitenance tourists during the summer season. Since we're always polite and nice to them, we always get the benefit of the doubt when we bring up an issue with them.

                                        1. If the item is marked lower than it should be they have to give it to you for the marked price even if you go through a regular checkout. If the shelf tag says one price and it scans at a higher price AND they don't have a posted policy about pricing errors (in MA, at least) they're required to give you 3 times the difference up to what would equal giving you the item for free (there are probably exceptions for huge amounts of an item).
                                          This article may interest you. http://www.fmi.org/docs/media/bg/pric...

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: lgss

                                            It is the store's responsibility to see that all items are priced correctly Errors such as this happen often, and, as others have pointed, out, not always to the customer's favor. I suspect I would have done exactly what the OP did, in the same situation. Eventually someone will notice it, and correct the problem, usually in the manner Givemecarbs outlined above.

                                            I've been given the wrong change in several situations, with different outcomes. Once in a drugstore the cashier was busy having an obviously personal conversation on the phone while she was conducting my transaction. She ignored my question about something I wanted from the shelf behind her, but then gave me change for a $20 -- I had only given her a $10. I gave this about 5 seconds thought, then pocketed my bonus and left the store. Not fair, I know, but when her cash drawer came up $10 short at the end of the day, I hope (but doubt) she realized that you can't argue with your boyfriend and do your job at the same time.

                                            1. re: Cheflambo

                                              Once years ago in the SF Chronicle, Herb Caen column: A man had a transaction with a bank teller, walked out, walked back in to the same teller and said, "I came back to tell you you made a mistake." The teller said, "that's too bad, you already left the window." The man left. The reason he had gone back was that the teller had accidentally given him too much money.

                                          2. I think you should have taken the items through the regular check-out where if a higher price scanned you would have been entitled to up to $10 worth of the marked 2.5 cent lamb for free because of the store's mistake. At least that's what the major grocery stores in Toronto do.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: Davedigger

                                              That would have been 400 lbs of lamb chops.

                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                Goodness! that is like winning the lamb chop lottery!

                                                1. re: moh

                                                  If you notice, above, there are Connecticut laws about incorrectly marked consumables under $20. I don't think I can win the lottery, no matter how liberal CT is! The post sure did have me ROFLMAO. 400 pounds!

                                            2. Things might vary state to state, and might have varied since my youth but many moons ago when I worked in a grocery store:

                                              - If inspectors came in and found the price tags on each item to not match the general tag for the whole lot of those items (the ones w/ the unit price and such), the store could get in trouble.
                                              - If a customer pointed out one of these differences, they would get the cheaper price
                                              - If a product rang up as being more expensive than what the sticker said (which from #1 and #2 must match the item tag in the aisle), they got it for free
                                              - Customers who intentionally took advantage of this by putting the wrong price labels on items were treated as shoplifters
                                              - Customers who took advantage of this in the way that you did (by seeing a mistake and capitalizing on it) were just viewed as savvy consumers.

                                              Note that #1 and #2 were pretty common because all of us help in the back were a bunch of lazy teenagers who didn't particularly care what the old fogie managers thought, so it was pretty common.

                                              1. A few months back, I went to my local independent market. In the meat section, there were a lot of Amish chickens that were a minimum of 4# for $2.49/lb. However, I noted that the total price was $4-5. I looked closer at the weights and they were 1.75#, 2#, 2.25# or 2.5#. Right away, looking at the weights on the label, I knew that the chickens had not been weighed as it is highly unlikely that all the numbers fall into exact quarter pounds.

                                                I reweighed the chickens and found that they weighed twice as much as the label.

                                                At this point, I went to the owner and showed him that his meat people were short-weighing the meat (and burying them under a pile of correctly weighed chickens). He said that he would take care of it.

                                                He never did. I don't feel guilty about taking advantage of the deal.