In an age of ubiquitous barcodes, self-scanners, and price-comparison apps, it is a quaint experience to walk into a Massachusetts grocery store and see items marked with individual price stickers. In fact, Massachusetts was the last remaining state to require grocery items to be individually labeled. It’s time to join the crowd; a bill to essentially end the item pricing rule passed the Legislature last week, and Governor Patrick signed it Tuesday.
Item pricing was first conceived in a less electronic era, as a way to protect consumers from misinformation, and to help clerks keep track of prices. Even with the advent of barcode scanners, some consumer groups have insisted that the labels serve as a hedge against unreliable technology. But the former law, as it stood, was a hodgepodge; certain types of stores were exempt, as were certain items like milk and frozen foods. And in an age of empowered consumers and information overload, item pricing was time-consuming and redundant.
Bills to end item pricing failed to pass the Legislature for a decade. But this year, lawmakers seemed almost indifferent to the issue. The latest version passed the House in May without a debate or a recorded vote, and when it passed the Senate last week, there were only two senators present. Few seemed to care. There may be one more skirmish on this issue; upon signing the bill, Patrick filed companion legislation that would adjust the rules applicable to warehouse clubs. But the overall lack of passion is a sign that the public is ready for the end of a vestigial practice.