Opening Statement* of Elaine D. Kolish, FTC Associate Director for Enforcement
December 16, 1998
The holiday season is always busy for consumers and retailers. And it's the perfect time to tell consumers about Price Check II, a survey of pricing accuracy in retail stores, and to give consumers some tips for their holiday shopping.
This survey is a comprehensive follow up to a smaller 1996 survey. Both surveys were conducted by the FTC, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and state and local weights and measures officials. This year, weights and measures officials in 36 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands inspected more than 100,000 items in over 1,000 stores. Both studies looked at whether the price charged at checkout matched the lowest advertised or posted price.
Overall, there is good news for shoppers and retailers--pricing accuracy has improved since our 1996 report. This year 71 percent of the stores "passed" inspection, compared to 45 percent in 1996.
When we looked at how many errors there were, we found that the wrong price was charged for one of every 30 items. Of course, these errors are not always overcharges. About half the time the price charged at checkout was too low and the other half of the time the price charged was too high.
This year, we looked separately at regularly priced items and sale priced items. For sale items, the error rate is slightly higher than for regularly price items. For sale items, about two out of three of the errors were overcharges; while for regular priced items, only about one out of three of the errors were overcharges.
Although pricing accuracy has increased overall, there is wide variation from chain to chain, store to store and among types of stores. With 29 percent of stores failing inspection this year, there is still considerable room for improvement. Retailers that fail to pay attention to their pricing accuracy can face fines or other enforcement actions.
The store, of course, is responsible for charging the right price. Consumers, however, can take steps to avoid being overcharged on their purchases. Paying attention as your purchases are being rung up is always a good idea. But because errors on sale items are more likely to result in overcharges, we urge consumers to be especially attentive to the price being rung up on sale items. Bringing the sales flyer with you to the store is a good way to keep track of advertised sale prices. Checking your receipt before leaving the store is another way to catch errors. Bringing mistakes to the store's attention will help ensure you get charged the right price and allows the store to fix the error.
I'd now like to introduce Robert Hebner, Acting Deputy Director of NIST, who will describe how the study was conducted. NIST, through its Office of Weights and Measures, works directly with the weights and measures officials who made this study possible.
* This may not be an exact transcript of Ms. Kolish's remarks.