Business & Tech

CONSUMER ALERT

What to do when a store’s price isn’t right

Making sure the price you pay for items at the supermarket are accurate can add up to substantial savings over time.

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Making sure the price you pay for items at the supermarket are accurate can add up to substantial savings over time.

This is a column about how to score free blueberries. OK, not exactly. But it is a story about how smart consumers can realize savings by knowing their rights and paying careful attention while shopping.

Browsing the produce section at Stop & Shop the other day, I noticed a vivid yellow sale sign promoting large boxes of organic blueberries for just $4.99. I grabbed one. But at the register, it rang up as $7.99. I almost just accepted it and moved on. I figured it probably was my mistake and, really, why bother raising a fuss about $3?

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Then my inner savvy consumer kicked in — if I find a way to save $3 every week, that’s more than $150 extra a year. So I headed to the customer service desk, where they refunded me not just the $3, but the entire price of the berries. Pleased but surprised, I went home and did some research.

Massachusetts law, it turns out, is very consumer-friendly when it comes to price disclosure regulations. Grocery stores and department store retailers with food departments (think Target and Walmart) must, with some exceptions, individually mark every item they sell with the price, or at least provide plenty of price scanners so shoppers can check costs.

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When an item rings up at a higher price than on the shelf — maybe because the store forgets to remove sale prices after a promotion ends — the buyer has a right to recourse. For products under $10 each, a shopper is entitled to one item free and all others at the lower price. If the product is priced at more than $10, the buyer should be given the first item at the lower price, minus $10, and sold all others at the lower price.

That means that if you want to buy three frozen pot pies on sale for $11, but they ring up as $13, you would be entitled to get one for $1 and two for $11 apiece.

Of course, these rules apply only if the consumer catches on to the fact that something has gone awry. If a sale seems particularly good, it might be worth snapping a picture of the sign with your phone to make the process of contesting a price go more smoothly — if it comes to that. Make it a practice to pay careful attention to prices, even when buying the same cookies and cheese you get every week. Those dollars could really add up and pay off.

Have a consumer question or complaint? Reach Sarah Shemkus at seshemkus@gmail.com.
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