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County inspectors find errors in store scanners

Post staff report
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.
    How area stores stack up
    List of area stores that were checked.
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. JC Penney 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. '' Stein Mart 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. Kmart 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

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