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Boston—Facing increasing pressure from retailers, the Senate today passed and sent to the Governor a bill (H.4089) that would allow supermarkets to stop putting prices on items, and instead install self-service price check scanners around the store.
“This represents a terrible loss of consumer rights for shoppers,” commented Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org and author of the now 25-year old law requiring grocery items to be price marked. “Consumers are going to have to play ‘guess the price’ because aisle scanners have proven so unreliable in the other stores where they have been allowed.”
Tests of nearly 150 similar aisle scanners in stores like Target, Walmart, Home Depot, and CVS a few years ago revealed that 70-percent of them failed to operate properly or comply with the law.
The bill on the Governor’s desk would let supermarkets and any other store that sells groceries to buy a “waiver” from the state for as little as $250 to get out of item pricing. In return, the store would have to install aisle price scanners — one every 5000 square feet — that would disclose prices momentarily on a display. Unlike current regulations of the Attorney General that require other retailers to utilize scanners that print price stickers for customers’ use, only one scanner in each supermarket is required to do so under this bill.
“We hope that the Governor realizes the importance of the current price disclosure law to consumers, and at a minimum that he amends this anti-consumer bill to be more protective of the shopping public,” said Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG’s Legislative Director. “It is not a fair trade for shoppers to give up price stickers if the industry’s proposed substitution for item pricing does not work in reality.”
Among the possible amendments suggested by consumer groups:
- Include a mechanism to assure that scanners are working properly and that shelf price labels are accurate.
- Provide a uniform system of inspections and fines for all aisle scanners, irrespective of the type of retail outlet.
- Un-exclude warehouse clubs. (Warehouse clubs like BJ’s have been exempted from the law in this bill, thus they are not required to either install aisle scanners nor put prices on items in their grocery department.)
- Increase the presence of aisle scanners to one every 2500 square feet as prior versions of the bill did, and require that they all print.
The food store item pricing law has been in effect since 1987 in Massachusetts and generally provides that most items in supermarkets and grocery items in other stores need to be price marked. Legislative attempts to water down the law have become a biennial event, but no reform bill this comprehensive has ever reached the Governor’s desk.
Consumer groups have long supported item pricing as an important tool for shoppers. “Although the price sticker is old fashioned, no technology has yet been developed that provides the same benefits of helping shoppers find prices easily, compare prices in the store, tally one’s shopping cart while shopping, catch overcharges at the checkout or at home, and check the last price paid for items in one’s cupboard,” said Corey Pilz, Vice Chair of the Massachusetts Consumers’ Coalition.
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