Jan 26 2013

Overcharged? Get it for FREE!

There is a little known fact that I need to share with you. This “little known fact” I actually thought was well known until my friend @beaskneas pointed out that she felt she had very little knowledge about the details or its breadth. What am I talking about? The Scanning Code of Practice; a voluntary program from the Competition Board of Canada. Who? What? Never heard of them?

The Competition Bureau is an independent law enforcement agency responsible for the administration and enforcement of the Competition Act, the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, the Textile Labelling Act and the Precious Metals Marking Act. Its role is to promote and maintain fair competition so that Canadians can benefit from competitive prices, product choice and quality services.

Lots of words essentially meaning that they overlook many aspects, of all types of businesses in Canada. There job is to protect consumers – that is You, and Me, and all of our friends and family. As in all things with life, having at least one person on your side to help \”fight the good fight\” doesn\’t hurt at all.

One of their implemented programs that I have most used is the Scanning Code of Practice.

Back in the olden days (not golden, just old) cash registers tallied up your purchases by a human being (normally a female) pushing buttons to enter the prices for those items. Even fruits and vegetables were weighed and total prices calculated by that same cashier. A big improvement came along in the early 80s that allowed cashiers to enter a \”code\” for fruits and veggies when they were placed on the scale and the register (the machine!) figured out the total cost for you.


In 1985 I worked as a cashier at a Dominion store (now gone, but their parent store A & P is still around, now called Metro). This was years before items had their SKUs scanned; I typed the price onto the keypad manually, bagged your item (for free!) and counted the money manually for change. In my head were oodles of codes for various produce and bakery items. But it was still up to the computer to impose the final price for those items. If the machine was wrong, a price check had to be done, the original item refunded or voided, and an override entered for the correct price. This process took at least 10 minutes at the time of sale. Much longer if you had to wait in line at the Customer Service desk (those seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur in most stores). Truthfully, if the person looked or sounded reputable, and was nice about pointing out the error, I\’d do the override without checking. Complainers, yellers and snarky meanies got directed to the CS desk (and I looked up – every – single – code – required for the rest of the sale.) If the item had already passed my cash several times that day, I started with the override to avoid the entire conversation and process.

But what did those customers get for the wasted 10 to 20 minutes of their time, just to get charged the correct and advertised price of what they purchased? Nothing. Nothing at all. And with one not-happy-about-life-on-any-day co-worker of mine they got horrible, disrespectful service, rattled with a smoker\’s cough too.

Fast forward to June 2002 and the Competition Board brings along the Scanning Code of Practice. I always felt that it was in response to the emerging trend of grocery stores beginning to use scanners at the cash registers instead of the cashiers entering the prices. Being a tech-geek I know human error is more likely than computer error, but the general public seems to think humans are the less fallible of the two. Really? Okay. Opposing opinions are allowed.

So what is this fancy dancy scanning policy? According to the Competition Bureau\’s official statement it is: \”The Retailers\’ Promise of Price Accuracy\”. That sounds good!

If the scanned price of a non-price ticketed item is higher than the shelf price or any other displayed price, the customer is entitled to receive the item free, up to a $10 maximum. When the item has a price tagged, the lowest price applies. When identical items are incorrectly priced, the second one will be sold at the correct price.
When the item has a price tagged, the lowest price applies. When identical items are incorrectly priced, the second one will be sold at the correct price.

So what does that mean? At a participating store, if the price scanned at the check-out is higher than the one listed on the shelf (or sign, or in the flyer) then I get the first item discounted by $10.
If it costs $2 for the item, I get it for free – but do not get a credit of $8.
If it costs $30 regularly, and is on sale for $13, the cost to me is (current price of $13) minus ($10) for a total of $3 (plus applicable tax of course). That is how I bought a crock pot for $3.

What if I have 10 of those items?
Only the first one has the policy applied; the others are charged the correct sale price, and money is refunded as necessary.

What if I have different flavours of the same item?
This has happened to me several times. Minute Maid frozen juices are on sale for 49 cents. I buy one can each of fruit punch, grape, mango, berry and orange. All of them ring through at 99 cents. FreshCo, No Frills and Walmart, from my experiences, will apply the policy to one, and correct the price for the other four. (Unless the items were on separate bills!) They claim that it is not unique enough, even though the SKUs are different. That\’s okay by me. I suppose they are protecting their profit line for the human error of not updating the central computer. Perhaps it is worth fighting, but I choose not to. (Let me know if you do and I will pile on though!) Overall, I have to admit, these 3 retailers have been consistent, hassle-free and pleasant when I have taken the steps to invoke the policy. That alone makes me want to stay loyal to them.

What if the product has a price tag on it? Not applicable. At all. Clearly stated that these items are not applicable in the policy. They will correct the price only. Please don\’t complain; just follow the rules.

Every participating store will have their policy posted. Most tend to have a sticker around the cash register. Some only post a general sign by the entrance. Regardless of where the notice may be, the details are the same for every store. Canadian Tire (in Whitby especially) will try to give you some crude variation – like the first item gets 10% off. No, that is the price-matching policy at Future Shop; try again. Stay strong on the details, and point out their sticker with those details (probably posted on EVERY cash register!)

I am yet to find an online listing of what stores are participating with this policy, but will add to this listing as I come across them. Please share any that I may have missed and I will add them, with credit to you. Keeping everyone informed of their rights and privileges is a nice thing to do.

So, if you are overcharged for something at a store, do you get it free? Sometimes, Yes, you do. Sometimes, you are shopping at Zellers – where they don\’t give a crap about you – so No, you do not.

Have you invoked this policy at stores? Was it a postive experience for you? Let me know your story in the comments below!

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