Every year, Americans are charged $55 trillion more for items than the price tag led them to believe they would pay. Actually, I made up the dollar figure. I couldn’t find an accurate estimate in my research. However, the evidence shows that businesses of just about every type — from Whole Foods to Walmart — are overcharging consumers with price tags that say one price but ring up as more expensive. Below, we will discuss why you should not put up with being overcharged and what you can do about it.
Overcharging Is False Advertising
Whether it was intentional or not, when a store says an item costs one price and charges you a higher amount, it is essentially false advertising. And, retailers are banking on consumers not paying attention to what they actually pay. If you don’t call them on their transgressions, they may not see a need to ensure the accuracy of their scanners.
Therefore, not only should you pay attention to what you are charged in order to save money, you should also do it to keep retailers honest. Left to their own devices, corporations are likely to become more and more maniacal if it will help their next quarter’s earnings. In other words, if you don’t get pissed about 7–11 charging you $1 for your corn dog instead of 99 cents, it’s only a matter of time before they are eating Fruit Loops out of our skulls.
What You Can Do about an Overcharge
Different states have different overcharge/scanner error laws. The United States Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology has a PDF that lists the statutes/ordinances covering each state’s retail pricing laws and regulations. Some states, such as Alabama, Missouri, and Washington, do not have any laws. Businesses can scam the crap out of their customers with zero repercussions (aside from maybe some consumers with spines refusing to shop at these places anymore).
In Michigan, if you are overcharged, you take the receipt and the item to the customer service desk at the store, provide them with the evidence, and they must pay you the difference plus up to $5 (ten times the difference in prices — with a minimum of $1 and max of $5). If they refuse to pay the difference, then you can bring a lawsuit and potentially get $250 and lawyer fees.
The PDF is primarily written in legalese, which doesn’t really illuminate much for us laypeople. But, if you search “*your state* retail pricing laws,” you can probably find a law blog that translates the statutes into American English.
If you find that you were overcharged at a store, I strongly encourage you to do something about it. If your state does not have laws making it illegal, contact your state representative and ask for something to be done. Also, see if the specific stores you shop at have their own policies. And, consider not shopping at stores that overcharge you and refuse to correct their mistake. You can also write a bad review about the store on social media and lodge a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Businesses hate that.
Do you have experiences with being overcharged? Please share with us!