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Byline: Harry Dunphy Associated Press

Computer scanners at grocery, department store and drugstore checkout counters ring up the wrong price about 5 percent of the time, say federal inspectors who fanned out to check stores nationwide.

But when errors occur, shoppers usually come out on top, according to the Federal Trade Commission study released Tuesday.

Grocery stores, which pioneered scanners more than two decades ago, had the most accurate scanners, while department stores had the highest rate of error.

And researchers found the most problems with the hundreds of items on sale in stores because of frequent price changes.

Although the FTC called the mistake rate surprisingly low, shoppers weren't so impressed.

``I don't think it's done on purpose,'' said Laurie Savage, 34, of Hyattsville, Md. ``But I don't believe the computers are always up to date compared to the price on the shelf - and they should be.''

The study found:

Overcharges occurred 2.24 percent of the time and undercharges happened 2.58 percent of the time, for a total error rate of 4.82 percent.

Department stores had an error rate of 9.15 percent. The average overcharge was $7.52 and the average undercharge was $5.29, but there were more undercharges than overcharges.

Grocery stores' error rate was 3.47 percent, with the average overcharge at 53 cents and the average undercharge at 72 cents.

Over 18 months, FTC researchers made 17,000 purchases of randomly selected items at 294 stores in Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Researchers said they did not release figures for individual stores because they did not want to embarrass them. The purpose of the study, they said, was to highlight the problem and get stores that do not have good accuracy rates to improve.

The FTC said scanners are an improvement over the days of manually entered prices, when the error rate was estimated at 16 percent.

Some states can impose fines of up to $1,000 per violation if stores do not take quick action to correct scanner errors, noted Joseph Goldberg, president of the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators.

Bernstein said a retailer in California, identified later by FTC officials as Kmart, paid close to $1 million in fines for scanner pricing errors.
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:BUSINESS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Oct 23, 1996

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