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City of Seattle
Ed Murray, Mayor

SUBJECT: Seattle shoppers and businesses benefit from city’s price scanner inspections

12/19/2007  9:25:00 AM
Craig Leisy (206) 386-1296
Cyndi Wilder  (206) 684-0909
Julie Moore  (206) 684-0909

Seattle shoppers and businesses benefit from city’s price scanner inspections

SEATTLE - This November before the holiday shopping rush, Seattle tested a sampling of retail store price scanners to ensure consumers are paying posted prices. Of the 57 retail stores surveyed in Seattle between Nov. 1 and 16 - including drug stores, grocery stores and department stores - three failed. During the same time frame, Washington state tested 88 retail stores located outside of Seattle and 18 failed inspection. A store fails if more than 2 percent of the prices checked are overcharges.

Based on past experience, Seattle’s inspectors expect some stores will fail the price- scanner checks. “When stores fail inspections, it usually boils down to one of two issues: either its scanning system is new or there has been a lot of management turnover,” says Craig Leisy, supervisor of Seattle’s consumer affairs unit, which oversees the city’s price-scanner inspection program. “When we first started our inspection program, grocery stores were about the only retailers using price scanners. Now you see them in a lot of smaller retail outlets, such as gas station convenience stores.”

Stores that fail are re-inspected again within three months. When stores fail an inspection, city inspectors offer training to help them come into compliance. Managers at stores that fail three consecutive inspections are subject to criminal misdemeanor charges for misrepresentation of price. Seattle has rarely had to press charges as most stores take the city up on its training offer and correct problems.

During the Nov. 1 and 16 price scanner survey, city inspectors checked prices for 3,425 items and found most price-scanning errors favored shoppers. Out of the 146 total errors found, 87 of the scanned prices were actually undercharges, and 59 were overcharges.

More than 450 stores in Seattle use price scanning systems to charge customers for products. Seattle weights and measures inspectors inspect these locations on a roughly annual basis. All inspections are unannounced. A standard inspection involves checking prices on 25 or 50 items in a small store and 100 items in a large store. Items are randomly selected using national standards.

Seattle and Spokane are the only two cities in Washington with their own price-scanning inspection programs. The Washington state Department of Agriculture monitors the rest of the state.

For their own protection, Seattle shoppers are advised to take time to ensure they are getting the sale price or posted discount on their purchases. “If you think you’ve been overcharged, keep your receipt and the scanned item, and contact the store manager,” Leisy advises. “If the manager doesn’t fix the error to your satisfaction, then contact our office.”

Complaints about overcharges or other weights and measures issues may be reported by calling the city of Seattle’s consumer affairs unit at (206)386-1298, faxing (206)386-1129, or by completing the complaint form on this Web site:

For details about the price scanning inspection program and other activities of Seattle’s Consumer Affairs Unit, visit the following Web site:

Department of Executive Administration

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