Consumer complaints about ‘deceptive pricing’ are on the rise

Photo (c) Gilaxia - Getty Images

But one retail expert offers an explanation

You’re going up and down the grocery aisle and pick up an item that has a shelf label showing it’s one price, but when you check out you discover the price is actually higher. It appears to be happening more and more.

A Twitter user named Brandon posted his experience at Whole Foods, suggesting the Amazon-owned chain is ripe for a lawsuit.

“An advertised $1.69 became $1.99 at the register and $3.99 became $4.39 at the register,” he wrote.

Another Twitter user, going by the handle LingCod, complained of “price deception” while shopping at Kroger.

“Not placing items in the correct shelf space, so that you think you are getting one price, only to find out at the register that it is actually much higher,” LingCod wrote. “Time to boycott #Kroger including #FredMeyer stores.”

Home Depot too

The complaint is not limited to supermarket chains. A Home Depot shopper recently complained on Reddit that he found a lawnmower he wanted with a price tag of $999. But that’s not what the mower actually cost.

“Go to self-checkout, scan it, and boom, $1099,” the shopper wrote. “Cancel and go to the register for further assistance and it rings up as $1099. They ask me to take a picture of the display showing $999, so I do. They try to manually mark it down and can’t.”

At first glance, it appears to be a rampant epidemic of deceptive pricing sweeping through American retail. But could there be another explanation? Francois Chaubard, the CEO of Focal Systems, providing retail AI solutions, says inflation and the labor shortage are creating nightmares for retailers.

Inflation’s role

"In higher inflation environments, retailers need to change price tags a lot more often than normal,” Chaubard told ConsumerAffairs. “For example, if the price of a can of Coke needs to change once a year, now it is increasing in price by 1%-2% every month it so needs to be updated 12 times more. 

“However, retailers don’t have enough labor as it is, so tags do not get updated fast enough. Retailers will change the price file, but won’t update the tags, leading to a discrepancy between what is on the shelf and what the customer gets charged.”

Consumer laws may vary by state but there is no federal law that requires a business to honor a price that's wrong on the shelf. If a company can show the pricing error was a mistake, many legal experts say it won’t be considered false advertising.

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