Inspectors for Hamilton County Auditor
Dusty Rhodes found seven stores where 10 percent o r more of prices scanned
incorrectly at the checkout during a round of holiday season checks.
There were at least three stores where more than 20
percent of the items checked by his inspectors in December didn't match the
advertised price. ''It is absolutely fundamental in a free marketplace to have
accurate information for consumers,'' said Rhodes, who sends inspectors into
stores year-round to check the scanner prices charged at the register against
advertised or posted prices. This year, 31 stores were tested during the
holidays. The program made 271 store visits throughout 1999 and found an error
rate of about 3.3 percent, an improvement over 1998, when the average error
rate was 5.6 percent. Some stores will be coming under added scrutiny following
the holiday rush, including: Service Merchandise
at Northgate, where inspectors checked 50
items valued at $4,404, and 22 percent (11 items) scanned incorrectly. Six of
those items scanned higher than the advertised price, while five scanned lower.
Of the six items for which inspectors found customers were being overcharged,
the difference in price was $58.19. The price difference for the five items
being undercharged was $35.41. Had it been a real shopping excursion, the
customer would have paid $22.78 more than the listed prices. When more than 2
percent of items scan incorrectly - regardless of the dollar amounts involved -
inspectors almost always give a failing grade. ''Of course, those numbers
aren't acceptable to us, and we're trying to make sure that store brings those
numbers back up to better levels,'' said company spokeswoman Laura Ellis. She
noted that during the same holiday scanner sweep, the Tri-County Service
Merchandise store had 100 percent accuracy.
at Northgate, where
16 percent of 50 items scanned improperly. Of the eight mis-scanned items, five
were in the store's favor, for $52.95, while three were in the buyer's favor,
for $12.93 - a difference of $40.02. The same store had a 100 percent accuracy
on Oct. 4, noted its manager, Bob Reineke. ''We pay customers $5 if they find
scanner error,'' he said. Part of the problem arises with holiday help, and the
speed with which sale signs go up and down, Reineke said: ''It's not an
intentional thing. It happened, and it won't happen again. ''
at 11315 Montgomery
Road in Symmes Township, where five of the 50 items checked - valued overall at
$1,219.95 - scanned incorrectly, all in the store's favor. A customer who would
have purchased all 50 items on Dec. 16 would have overpaid by $48.99.
in Groesbeck will
undergo added scrutiny after inspectors found a 10 percent error rate. That
will happen despite the fact all the five items that scanned incorrectly were
in the customer's favor. A customer who purchased the same 50 items, valued at
$466.98, would have paid $18.04 less than expected.
Under continued scrutiny
even though its store passed during the auditor's holiday scanning sweep - is
the Parisian store at Kenwood Towne Centre. The department store on Dec. 23 had
a 2 percent inaccuracy rate, a passing grade. But prior inaccuracy rates at the
store reached as high as 24 percent on Dec. 10, when 11 of 50 items at the
store scanned higher than the marked price by $93.20, compared to one in the
customer's favor, at $2.10. Parisian's scores prompted Rhodes to quietly call
Parisian officials, urging them to correct the situation, he said. The store
has passed two inspections since July, but failed two others. A Parisian
official was unavailable to comment, as was a Stein Mart spokesman. ''It might
have been that we're hitting them on a bad day,'' Rhodes said of some stores
that failed his holiday checks. On the other hand, ''It shows a snapshot of
negligence in my opinion,'' he said. The program not only protects buyers, but
also shows stores when they are cheating themselves, said Kevin Pyle, Rhodes'
director of assessments. Scanning accuracy has gained a higher profile in
recent months since a Hamilton County grand jury handed down an 11-count
indictment against three Home Quarters Warehouse stores, accused of
misrepresenting prices. ''It indicates to folks that we're very serious about
this,'' Rhodes said. ''The prosecutor deserves credit, too, but we're very
serious about this.'' Pyle said some stores are more vigilant than others.
''The best chains going really are Kroger and CVS. I put Kroger and CVS at the
top, with UDF making an all-American effort to be up there.'' Sears and
Thriftway also are very good, Pyle said.
Publication date: 01-05-00