For Immediate Release - December 08, 2004

Consumer Affairs Holiday Shopping Wrap-Up

Surveyed Retailers Complying with Consumer Protection Laws - Still Few Consumers Aware of Protections

Massachusetts Consumer Affairs Director Beth Lindstrom joined investigators with the Division of Standards today to release results of an annual sweep of retailer pricing accuracy and highlight retailer awareness of the state's gift certificate law and return requirements.

State inspectors fanned-out recently to verify the price scanning accuracy of nearly 6,500 toys at 65 retail stores across the state. Overall pricing accuracy was 99.5%, exceeding the 98% state price accuracy requirement. Wal-Mart stores in Hanover, North Adams and North Dartmouth and a Kohl's store in Stoughton were issued fines for failing to initially meet the state standard. A total of $3,600 in fines was issued to retailers where items were found to scan higher than the lowest advertised price. The largest overcharge was $20.00, more than doubling the price of an item advertised for $19.99 at the Toys "R" Us in Bellingham.

Retailer

# of Stores

# of Items

Overcharges

Accuracy %

Fines

B J's

5

500

0

100%

$0

Costco

3

300

0

100%

$0

Disney

3

300

0

100%

$0

KB Toys

9

894

1

99.9%

$100

Kohl's

9

900

7

99.2%

$700

Target

3

300

1

99.7%

$100

Toys "R" Us

11

1,100

7

99.4%

$700

Wal-Mart

22

2,199

19

99.1%

$2,000

TOTALS

65

6,493

35

99.5%

$3,600

"The results from this sampling are impressive, but also point-out that mistakes do happen despite the best technology. Shoppers must be their own last line of defense and pay attention at the checkout," advised Consumer Affairs Director Beth Lindstrom.

Lindstrom urged consumers to be more fully aware of their rights and armed with the information necessary to get full value and protection for the gifts they're buying. A survey of managers with 19 area retailers showed overwhelming consistency in awareness of the state's requirements for returns and gift certificates or gift cards. However, fewer than 2% of 1,200 callers to the Consumer Affairs Hotline during November were familiar with the new requirements for gift certificates and gift cards.

Director Lindstrom added, "Since our last survey in 2003, both Yankee Candle and Toys-R-Us tell us they've stopped applying dormancy fees to their gift certificates. We have strong consumer protections and retailer compliance appears consistent, but shoppers can be our eyes and ears on that front too. Greater awareness of gift certificate laws will help us expose retailers who aren't playing by the rules."

Changes to the Massachusetts Gift Certificate Law, implemented in June 2003, further protected consumers by expanding the definition of a gift certificate to include gift cards and required all gift certificates issued in the state to be valid for at least seven years. The law also prohibits retailers from charging a dormancy fee during those seven years.

Shopping Tips to Keep in Mind

  • Bring circulars to the store with you. Regardless of the price scan, retailers must sell you the item for their lowest marked or advertised price. Exceptions: A sale price doesn't have to be given if an ad or circular specifies a limited quantity in stores or there was unexpected demand for an item and it's out-of-stock. Ask the manager for a rain check at the sale price, but know that these exceptions exist.
  • If an item scans higher than advertised or marked, ask for a price check from the store manager.
  • According to the state's pricing regulations, items in non-food stores may no longer be individually tagged. In such stores, in-aisle scanners must be available to printout price labels. Bring those labels to the checkout to compare the scanned price.
  • Some retailers have a "price accuracy guarantee". If an item scans higher than advertised or marked, these retailers will give cash credits and sometimes offer an item free of charge.
  • Retailers are required to clearly and conspicuously post or disclose their return and refund policies prior to purchase, but retailers may choose their own policies and they do vary widely. Shoppers need to be aware of these policies before they buy.
  • Disclosing a return policy only on the receipt does not satisfy the law's disclosure requirement because it is not provided until after the sale is made.

Consumers who wish to learn more about the Massachusetts Gift Certificate Law or shopping rights can access the Consumer Affairs website at www.mass.gov/consumer or contact the Consumer Affairs Hotline at (888) 283-3757. Complaints against a retailer can be registered with the Office of the Attorney General at (617) 727-8400.