Over the last two years, state data shows a big increase in retail price scanner mistakes. From groceries, to drug store items, to auto parts - state inspectors are finding more items with bar codes which ring up the wrong price. Some chains are racking up huge fines in state civil penalties, while most customers do not notice as they are nickled and dimed. One Raleigh store has paid fines six times in the last year and a half for pricing mistakes. And the shoppers keep coming.
Since February of 2007, the Kmart at 6200 Capitol Boulevard has failed seven consecutive scanner inspections conducted by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Kmart's parent company, Sears Holding, has paid six civil penalties, totalling more than $15,000. During this period, the Capitol Boulevard Kmart has not passed a state price scan inspection. Shoppers outside of Kmart had no idea of the track record of price errors.
"I think every store you're going to find that," said Margie Galanos, who carried a bag of items just purchased at the Capitol Boulevard Kmart. "But six times? OK, I'm floored."
"Wow, were those six tests done just last year?" asked Bryony Maitra, who was entering the store. "Wow, oh my goodness."
In 2005, the Department of Agriculture fined only nine retail stores across North Carolina for repeatedly failing price scan tests. In 2006, the fine list jumped to 55 stores. In 2007, 62 stores were fined. Last year, state inspectors conducted 1824 price scan inspections. More than 15% ended in failing grades. When a store fails a price test, inspectors return for another test every 60 days until the store passes.
"We have to go back to protect the consumer until they get it right," said Bill Tetter, an inspector with the Dept. of Ag's Standards Division.
Most stores do pass the initial random 50 item price inspections. But when state testers find two mistakes, the store must scan another 50 items. If more than 2% of items are priced incorrectly, the store fails and must test again in two months. Follow up scanner inspections test 300 items. Failing a 300 item test results in a civil penalty for the store.
Officials with the Department of Ag's Standards Division don't have a specific reason for the jump in scanner mistakes. One explanation might be fewer experienced workers in retail stores.
"Retailers are constantly under the gun for man-hours being cut," said Tetter, one of the state price inspectors. Tetter said he's never seen a store intentionally mis-price its scanner system.
Some major retailers, like the Harris Teeter chain of grocery stores, have never been fined. But some chains are repeatedly hit with fines which can cost thousands of dollars each. Over the past fourteen years of Department of Ag data, Eckerd / Rite Aid drug stores and Kmart are far and away the retailers most often fined for pricing errors.
But seven straight price test failures at one Kmart is startling, even for the inspectors who test the bar codes every day.
Eyewitness News conducted it's own survey of prices at the Kmart at 6200 Capitol Boulevard in Raleigh. Of 50 items purchased, ten did not match the shelf price. Six were under-charged at the register. Four were over-charged. And one was charged twice. The total bill of $124.07 was $4.82 more than the total shelf price.
"There are some problems with that store," Tetter said.
Kmart officials say most its price mistakes come down in favor of its customer. In a statement, the company said: "K-Mart devotes significant resources to ensuring pricing accuracy. We want to assure or customers that we monitor our systems closely and that, even though we execute millions of price changes each month, errors are rare."
The Department of Agriculture says it fails stores only for price over-charges. Mistakes which favor the customer are not scored against retailers. Because the Capitol Boulevard K-Mart has failed a seventh straight price test, state inspectors will return and price test again and again until the store's bar codes and registers manage to pass.
Search to see if your favorite store is on the list:
Most retail price penalties - 1995-2007, by retail chain, across North Carolina
- Eckerd / Rite Aid-35
- K Mart-33
- Pep Boys-11
- Auto Zone-10
- Advanced Auto Parts-9
- Staples- 6
- Winn Dixie- 6
- Compare Foods-6
Most price test failures - by individual store:
- 7 - Kmart - 6200 Capital Blvd., Raleigh
- 4 - Pep Boys - 5020 South Blvd., Charlotte
- 4 - Pep Boys - 4837 N. Tryon Rd, Charlotte
- 4 - Kmart - 102 New Market, Madison
- 3 - WalMart - 9820 Callabridge Court, Charlotte
- 3 - Office Depot - 715 E. Innes St., Salisbury
- 3- Revco Store - 5701-152 Yadkin Rd, Fayetteville
- 3 - Kmart - 545 Hwy 29, Concord
- 3 - Eckerd - 4808 West Market St., Greensboro
- 3 - Kmart - 4500 Western Blvd, Raleigh
- 3 - WalMart - 3240 Wilkerson Blvd., Charlotte
- 3 - Pep Boys - 3028 Franklin Blvd., Gastonia
- 3 - WalMart - 2431 New Bern Ave., Raleigh
- 3 - WalMart - 2406 Roosevelt Blvd., Monroe
- 3 - Kmart - 2401 North Sardis Rd., Charlotte
- 3 - Eckerd - 240 Stratford Rd., Winston Salem
- 3 - Just Save - 2215 N. Cannon Blvd., Kannapolis
- 3 - WalMart - 1330 W. Clemmonsville Rd., Winston-Salem
- 3 - Kmart - 1302 Bridford Pkway, Greensboro
- 3 - Staples -11845 Retail Dr., Wake Forest
Locations for price scan penalties by county (stores are fined after failing a second and all subsequent scanner tests):
- Super Target - 7900 Old Wake Forest Rd. Raleigh - $1,170 - 2007
- Eckerd - 744 Hunter Street, Apex - $615 - 2007
- Kmart - 720 Suiter's Creek Blvd., Raleigh - $645 - 2007
- Kmart - 6200 Capital Blvd., Raleigh - 7 violations - at least $15,252 - 2007-08
- Kmart - 4500 Western Blvd., Raleigh - 3 violations - $5,450 - 2007
- Kmart - 4300 Fayetteville Rd, Raleigh - $1,200 - 2006
- Compare Foods - 410 W. Gannon, Zebulon - $1,455 - 2001
- Kerr Drug Co.- 2462 Wycliff Rd., Raleigh - $150 - 1995
- Eckerd - 2438 Cary Parkway, Cary - $1,770 - 2006
- WalMart - 2431 New Bern Ave., Raleigh - $3,815 - 2007
- Compare Foods - 2215 New Hope Church Rd., Raleigh - $1,473 - 2007
- Eckerd - 1945 High House Rd., Cary - $780 - 2006
- Rite Aid - 1910 Falls Valley Rd., Raleigh - $450 - 2007
- Eckerd - 1601-51 Cross Link Rd., Raleigh - $465 - 2007
- Pep Boys - 490 US 70 W., Garner - $1.035 - 2006
- Staples - 11845 Retail Dr., Wake Forest - $4615 - 2007
- Target - 1000 Shoppes at Midway Dr, Knightdale - $1,050 - 2007
- Staples - 3600 N. Duke Street, Durham - $2,000 - 2007
- Kroger - 3420 Watkins Road, Durham - $2,325 - 2005
- Auto Zone - 1714 E. Holloway, Durham - $750 - 2005
- Eckerd - 101 Woodcroft Pkway, Durham - $1,065 - 2007
- Eckerd - 1800 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill - $5,000 - 2006
- Eckerd - 1218 Raleigh Road, Chapel Hill - $1,260 - 2006
- Staples - 1700 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill - $2,497.50 - 2006
- M&B Supermarket - 826 S. 3rd Street, Smithfield - $4,080 - 2007
- Walgreen - 424 N. Brightleaf Blvd., Smithfield - $510 - 2007
- Eckerd - 104 N. Brightleaf Blvd., Smithfield - $840 - 2007
- Advanced Auto Part - 2400 Owen Drive, Fayetteville - $705 - 2007
- NAPA - 1009 Hope Mills Rd., Fayetteville - $825 -2007
- Revco Store - 5701-152 Yadkin Road, Fayetteville - $1,650 - 1997
- Advanced Auto Parts - 462 East Street, Pittsboro - $3,772 - 4 violations in 2002 & 2005
- Piggly Wiggly - 315 Hwy 24, Roseboro - $1,155 - 2007
- Auto Zone - 207 NE Blvd., Clinton - $2,055 - 2007
- Winn Dixie - Dunn Plaza Shopping Ctr. - Dunn - $150 - 1997
- Super Kmart - 110 Brucewood Road - Southern Pines - $1,125 - 2002
- Auto Zone - 201 N. Grace Street, Rocky Mount - $765 - 2006
- Office Depot - 1321 Cobb Corner Dr., Rocky Mount - $1,215 - 2007
- Auto Zone - 401 S. Madison Blvd., Roxboro - $2,550 - 2006
Franklin Co. - none
Granville Co. - none
Lee Co. - none
Hoke Co. - none
Halifax Co.- none
Vance Co. - none
Warren Co. - none