Black Friday shoppers: Laws protect you from overpaying - East Valley Tribune: Business

Black Friday shoppers: Laws protect you from overpaying

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Posted: Friday, November 23, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:22 pm, Wed Nov 26, 2014.

If you're willing to brave the Black Friday crowds today for that special toy or gift, state officials can't keep you from spending too much.

But they may be able to help you avoid paying more than you should.

Shawn Marquez of the Department of Weights and Measures said there are various laws designed to ensure that consumers know before they get to the register what they should pay. Arizona statutes also protect those who find that the price that rings up is more than what the shelf tag or the ad says it should have been.

And Marquez, who is the agency's director of compliance programs, said even if you don't know that you were overcharged until you get home, save your receipts: Inspectors may still be able to recoup the excess.

It turns out this is a particularly busy time of the year for the regulatory agency.

"During the holiday season, we always see this big influx of complaints,'' Marquez said.

What gives his staffers some ability to help is a 1993 law.

Prior to that, Arizona used to require that prices be stamped on each item. That made it easy for a customer to see that what was on the can or box was the price put into the register.

But state legislators, responding to retailer complaints about costs -- and noting the increasing availability of cash register scanners -- agreed to scrap that mandate.

In exchange, however, stores have to post the price of every item on the shelf or near each display.

More to the point, the prices that are rung up by the scanners at each register must match those on the shelf. And each store must have a written policy, available to shoppers, to say what they will do if there is a discrepancy.

Marquez said the system works the simplest when consumers keep an eye on the register display.

"If you see you're being overcharged, tell the cashier, 'Whoa. Rescan this. Something's wrong,' '' he said.

If the scanned price is higher than the shelf tag or the ad, many stores will simply agree to charge the lower price. Some will even give you the item for free, though Marquez stressed that's not what state law requires.

What is required is each store have a written "scan error policy.''

"That scan error policy dictates what the store will do for you in the event of an error,'' Marquez explained. And that policy has to be made available, on demand, to customers.

He said, though, that the policy may be that the price at the register is presumed correct and what it said on the shelf or in the ad was in error. At that point, Marquez said, customers have to decide if they still want the item at that price.

Things get more complicated if problems aren't caught at the register.

Marquez said many of the complaints that come in are from people who say that it was only after getting home, unloading the haul, and reviewing the receipt that they discover the price charged was not what it said on the shelf. And there are variations.

"We have complaints that 'nothing in the toy aisle was priced. When I got home I discovered that my brother who got the same toy was actually charged $10 less,' '' he said.

It is in those situations, Marquez said, where his agency's inspectors can intercede if the store provides no satisfaction.

"Hang on to your receipt,'' he advised. "Even if we're there three or four days later ... we can kind of go back in time and find out, through the system, what exactly they were charged and what exactly they should have been charged.''

Marquez noted, though, not every dispute can be resolved in a consumer's favor. He said sometimes what seems like a "bait and switch'' may simply be a question of a store imposing "fine print'' conditions.

"We find that a lot,'' he said, where someone complains that a deal advertised in the paper or on the Internet is not actually available.

Further research, he said, might show that the offering says, somewhere, that price is available only online and not in the store. Other conditions, Marquez said, can include a requirement to make a certain minimum purchase.

And then there's that verbiage that consumers largely ignore: participating stores only.

"I would call ahead and say, 'I saw your ad, are you guys doing this?' '' Marquez said. "That way your save the trip, you save the aggravation, you save $40 worth of gas driving all over for no good reason.''

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