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It pays to be vigilant

| Economic factors

What if you spot your favourite coffee marked at a good price at the shelf, but scans at R8 more at the till? Can you demand the shelf price?

Consumer Goods and Services Ombud Neville Melville said yes, you can.

"Our understanding is the transaction is concluded when the consumer places the goods on the check-out counter," he said.

The Consumer Protection Act states that retailers don't have to honour prices which are "obviously" wrong, as long as they take reasonable steps to inform the customer of the mistake and take steps to rectify it.

And Melville said it's too late for the retailer to rectify the mistake if the customer is already at the till.

But most price mistakes between shelf and till go unnoticed - for example, coffee marked at R8.99 at the shelf by mistake but ringing up at the till correctly at R89.99.

They are usually management inefficiencies - a "promotional" price not being programmed into the till and because it requires the shopper to remember what the shelf price tag indicated and then notice the discrepancy, the shopper often loses out.

If you do notice, don't be embarrassed to speak up, ask for the manager and insist on being given the item at the shelf price, no matter how many grumpy-looking people are standing in the queue behind you.

And here's what you really need to know - two major supermarkets have chosen to go one step further on the wrong-price scanned issue, compensating customers when they get it wrong. [See sidebar.]

But it seems to me that they aren't doing much - or anything at all - to make their customers aware of this, so many lose out.

Hazel Ogg told In Your Corner that twice in a week the "3 for the price of 2" specials on vegetables were scanned at the full price for three at Woolworths' Westville Mall branch recently.

The first time the cashier noticed - good for her - and the second time Ogg picked it up.

"Both times the duty manager was called and reversed the cost to reflect the special offer.

"The second time it happened, I suggested that twice in a week was unacceptable," Ogg said. "The manager shrugged and said it was a problem with head office and suggested I contact it."

No mention of the "if it scans wrong, get it free" policy.

Even more worryingly, when Ogg called Woolworth's customer care line, the person she spoke to didn't mention the policy either.

So I asked Woolworths if it had done away with it.

"Our pricing policy has not changed and remains consistent for both foods as well as clothing and general merchandise," a spokesman told me.

"It would appear that the policy was not followed in our Westville Mall store and, as a result, we will send reminders to stores to ensure effective execution of this policy.

"Woolworths will be contacting Ogg directly shortly to apologise for the error and compensate her in full."

It seems the customer care division could use a copy of that policy, too.

Store managers appear to need regular reminding of the policy and how to implement it.

Last January Frank Meulenbeld said when he noticed that he was overcharged at a Cape Town branch of Woolworth's Food, he pointed it out and a supervisor was called over to fix the problem.

"I asked if I would receive the item free, as per the policy, but he said the policy had changed."

Either that supervisor hadn't been trained properly or he just made that up on the spot.

Bottom line: for reasons best known to the retailers, products scanning at the till at a higher price than that displayed at the shelf is a common occurrence.

And if you're routinely not making a note of shelf prices and not paying attention at check-out - focused on your phone instead of the till display, perhaps - sooner or later you're going to be overcharged.

It pays to be alert and know, not only your legal rights, but what two major retailers have implemented as overcharge policy because if you don't know, chances are you won't get.


When the till price doesn't match the shelf price you are legally entitled to the lower price if an item scans at the till at a higher price than the one shown on the shelf. Woolworths and Pick n Pay have different compensation policies.


You get the item free, and any additional ones of the identical type at the lower price.


They used to have the "first one free" policy, but now if any item scans at a higher price at the till than on the shelf, a customer gets double the difference between the right price and the wrong one.


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