When you go to a supermarket, drugstore or convenience store, you assume the price you pay is the same as the price on the shelf sticker.
But our newest consumer investigation confirmed what many shoppers fear: You are being charged more than the shelf tag.
Happens to Everyone
It's so frustrating: You're standing at the cash register and notice something rang up at a wrong price.
Colerain Township resident Vonda Schloss said it has happened to her.
"Yes, they have done that before and I had to tell them it’s a different price," Schloss said.
It's also happened to Dorothy Trimm of Fairfield.
"The stuff on sale they will ring up the regular price," she said.
And it happened to us, as we went into a number of Cincinnati-area stores with a hidden camera.
Counties Inspect Stores Annually
Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes sends a team of inspectors to every store in the county each year, without advance notice.
Ohio law requires each county's Auditor to perform scanner checks.
Rhodes said most stores have a 2 percent or lower failure rate, which means fewer than 2 percent of items rang up incorrectly.
That’s considered a "passing" grade.
But at some stores, the failure rate can be as high as 20 percent, especially during a sale period.
"We typically find the problem over the holidays or right after there is a big sale,” Rhodes said. “You expect to buy something, and the price rings up different, it’s an issue.”
Rhodes said he believes the mistakes are due to sloppiness – especially during sale events – not deliberate deception.
"Very rarely do we find a store that does not want to comply," Rhodes said. "They want to make it right, and that speaks to the quality of merchants in this area and people running these stores."
While it may not be deliberate, Rhodes' most recent 2013 tests show some stores continue to struggle with cash register accuracy.
Three Low Scoring Stores
The Aldi supermarket on Ridge Avenue in Columbia Township was one of three stores with the most scanner errors in the county's 2013 scanner test.
County testers found 8 percent of items there scanned wrong – and we had similar results when we went in with hidden cameras.
Of 17 items we bought, five scanned at different prices.
For instance, Aldi Frosted Flakes were $1.69 on the shelf, but we were charged $1.79.
A rice mix was stickered at 69 cents, but our receipt showed we paid 79 cents.
Three items, though, scanned in our favor (Jiffy Corn Mix, Pork & Beans and brownie mix), so it was a wash in the end.
Another store with an even higher error rate in the auditor's report: Staples on Colerain Avenue in Northgate. The store has a 10 percent error rate.
Among 10 items we bought, we overpaid for an iPhone speaker: The big shelf tag said $3, but it rang up for $4.
But the store with the most errors in the auditor's latest test was the Kroger on Warsaw Avenue in Price Hill, where a whopping 19 percent of items scanned incorrectly.
In fairness to the stores, the Auditor's report found that almost a quarter of errors were in the customer's favor (at the Staples we tested, half of the errors were in our favor). But inspectors say there should not be mistakes in either direction.
Other Failing Stores
In addition to those three stores, 12 others failed with a 6 percent or higher error rate.
Those stores are:
- Meijer on Stone Creek Boulevard in Colerain Township.
- Kroger on Ferguson Road in Western Hills.
- Remke on Delhi Pike in Delhi Township.
- Walgreens on Beechmont Avenue in Anderson Township.
- Walgreens on Beechmont Avenue in Mount Washington.
- Walgreens on Miami Avenue in Madeira.
- Dick’s Sporting Goods on Kemper Road near Tri County.
- Best Buy on Kemper Road near Tri County.
- Office Max on Fields Ertel Road in the Fields Ertel Area.
- CVS on New Haven Road in Harrison.
- Staples on Beechmont Avenue in Cherry Grove.
- Staples on Glenway Avenue in Western Hills.
In response to receiving a 19 percent failure rate, a spokesperson for the Price Hill Kroger said the store has improved significantly.
“There was a follow up audit a couple of days after and the store received a perfect score, the spokesperson said. “Since then, the store has performed very well on several internal audits.”
The spokesperson said if an item scans at a different price than the shelf tag, sign or product label, the customer will get that item for free – as long as it’s $5 or less, and the item isn’t prohibited by law to give away.
An Aldi spokesperson was also quick on the defense when questioned about the Columbia Township store’s poor evaluation.
“We are committed to providing shoppers with the highest quality products at the lowest possible prices every single day,” the spokesperson said. “Should a matter like this
occur, we encourage the customer to bring the receipt to the store and the store manager will be glad to review it and immediately make any appropriate adjustments.”
Staples has not yet responded to a request for a comment.
Rhodes said the tests are not a “witch hunt,” but rather a method to keep stores diligent and honest. He said without anonymous testing, mistakes could be more rampant.
"We want to maintain an honest market," Rhodes said. "That's the success of any free enterprise system."
Butler County also publicly posted its test results.
CLICK HERE to see Butler County's most recent test, where convenience stores had the most issues.
CLICK HERE for Hamilton County's complete report.
Other Ohio counties do not post lists to testing results. Kentucky also completes annual tests, but does not release a list of failing stores.
As always, don't waste your money.
Web Editor Maxim Alter contributed to this report.
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