News 11 Investigation: Price Checker

Reported by Dan Bumpus email
Posted by Kate Oatis email

TOLEDO (WTOL) - Deals and sales are keys to financial survival in these uncertain times. So, it's expected that shoppers will scour local newspaper for coupons.

But, are the prices you see advertised really what you're getting charged at the checkout?

We wanted to check the stores ourselves. So we sent a News 11 producer with a hidden camera into five grocery and three retail stores. She picked out six random sale items to see how they'd ring up.

Before getting to her results, though, let's take a look at why we felt it necessary to go undercover for you.

Debbie Edmondson is like most shoppers today: She wants to save money, especially because her husband is disabled and unemployed.

"You gotta look for every penny. Can't just spend, especially when you are on a budget," Edmondson said.

But, if the scanner isn't working properly, there go your savings.

Fortunately, the Lucas County Auditors Office is in charge of policing the stores, making sure you get what you pay for. In fact, the Weights and Measures Division checks every store in Lucas County that uses scales or scanners -- 610 in all -- at least once a year.

Inspectors check products to make sure the weights are accurate. They check the scales to make sure you don't get overcharged for produce.

And most importantly, they check the scanners, which sometimes malfunction.

Auditor Anita Lopez agrees that saving money is a goal we all share, as is truth in advertising.

"In this day and age, we all need to watch how we are spending dollars and make sure those devices are operating correctly," Lopez said.

In 2008, 59 Lucas County grocery stores were checked for price verification. Fifty-five passed on the first try; four failed the initial inspection but passed the follow-up.

Hani Shamoon, general manager at the Food Center in east Toledo, says from a business perspective, it's in a store's best interest to get it right.

"It's part of customer service," Shamoom said. "They trust us, and it keeps them coming back to the store."

At each of the three retail stores our producer went to, she bought two products on sale. We're happy to report that each store's actual prices matched those advertised.

We talked with the manager of the new Food Town on Central, one of the stores we checked.

Mark Katafiasz admits mistakes happen but says the goal is to fix problems right away.

"Obviously, if we have a problem showing, we're going to honor that lower price, and fix the problem for the customer," he said.

Smart shoppers like Edmondson say, come checkout time, it's ultimately the shopper's job to do the checking.

"If you aren't checking prices, and you lose money, it's your own fault," she said.

Here's a heads-up: Mondays are the most likely days to find problems at the checkout, and that's because the new sales for the week are kicking in.

And remember: If you notice a problem, point it out immediately. Usually the store will make it right.

If you have a complaint about a store, the auditors office will investigate.