Insider tips to avoid grocery overcharges

In the four months since Consumer Affairs last checked, overcharging at city grocery stores has gotten … worse.  Seventy percent of grocery stores sampled in Brooklyn and two-thirds in the city overall were caught with price problems, scanner inaccuracy or improper taxation. Things were better at the last inspection in August, when only about half of the stores had price chicanery. It’s no surprise to our savvy readers that you should always check your receipts (not just at grocery stores). But, listen: some of Team Brokelyn moonlights at a Certain Popular Brooklyn Grocer, so take it from us — it probably happens more than you realize. But it’s not on purpose. Use these insider tips on how to avoid paying for more than you got:

Here’s the deal: if you’re getting ripped off occasionally (like we said: you probably are, even if it’s just 10 cents extra on an apple), it’s most likely not the machinations of some evil hyperglobal grocer conspiracy. It’s probably just sloppiness caused by busy crowds, space constraints or, occasionally, price confusion. You can do your part to be vigilant:

Follow the live feed: Most stores have displays that show a tally of the items as they’re being scanned. Put down Angry Birds for a minute and follow along to make sure everything looks legit. And yes, sometimes your cashier gets distracted by a conversation with their neighbor, so it’s easier to catch a mistake in the act rather than when you get home.

Check the quantities: The dreaded “double scan” happens when something gets passed in front of the scanner twice, or when a would-be-helpful customer piles their stuff on the counter in front of the scanner. Check the receipt to see if you got hit for three boxes of cookies when you only have two in your bag. On that note: if there’s limited space at the register, don’t try to help. The cashier most likely has a system, and your (well-intentioned) efforts to speed up the process by moving groceries out of your cart will probably only gum up the works.

Remember the price of produce: We don’t live in a Minority Report-like future yet so most loose produce is free of a barcode. That means your cashier has to either enter a code or remember the price off the top of their head — and many don’t, which leads to price guessing. Not everyone is a Showcase Showdown champion, so don’t be afraid to call them on it. If the store sells produce per pound, check it on two different scales before going to the register.

Ask if you have all your bags: Particularly at Certain Popular Brooklyn Grocer, register space is tight, which means if you buy a ton of stuff, your bags will end up strewn all about the space behind the register until the transaction is over. When the clerk is handing them back to you, overlooking one is unfortunately common. Though a helpful employee may burst out the door to try to chase you down once they notice, you could be be on a bus home already. Ask the cashier to check if they missed anything, or if there’s anything left on the counter they forgot to bag.

As we said earlier, most overcharges are likely a mistake, so bringing them to the attention of the clerk or manager will usually result in a quick refund and an apology. If you’re still worried, you can always report a complaint through the Department of Consumer Affairs’ website.

4 Comment

  • Thanks for the tips. I love Fairway but they are always screwing up with the scans. You need to watch the register for over charges on produce and sale items that don’t come up at the sale price

  • I always keep an estimate tally in my head just so I know what to anticipate what I get to the register. Sometimes it’s not even deceptive overcharging on the part of the grocer; it’s easy to hit an extra digit when you’re typing fast. I caught an extra $10 added onto my total once when my $1.29 broccoli became $10.29.

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