Scan law & bounty: a shopper’s guide

by Jessica Sommerfield · 0 comments

Pricing and scan laws differ by state, but are put in place to protect consumers from retailers falsely advertising their prices or underhandedly changing them.  Some states require retailers to individually price every item in their store, a practice which is not only time-consuming and expensive, but also creates more opportunities for pricing errors. Michigan, for instance, was one of these states until the law changed in 2011.  Retailers in this state are still responsible for correct pricing, but are no longer required to price every item.  Other states impose hefty fines on scan law offenders. Scan laws present both advantages and disadvantages to consumers and retailers alike.

How pricing laws affect the retailer

Pricing laws keep retailers accountable for accurate advertising and keep them from changing prices without the customers’ knowledge.  It’s only logical that if you’re in the business of selling merchandise, your products should be adequately and correctly tagged as a courtesy to your customers. We already mentioned that stringent pricing laws cause undue labor, material, and unexpected fine costs to retailers; this in turn leads to higher prices to offset higher operating expenses. Changes in scan laws can make a huge impact on the retailers’ ability to pass savings on to their customers, so it’s in customers’ favor that laws be reasonable, but not overbearing.

How pricing laws affect the consumer

  • They foster a  better shopping experience. Consumers frequently find it frustrating when they select an item but find no indication of what price it is. Of course, many retailers feature bar code scanners throughout their facility where prices can be verified before arriving at the checkout, but finding them can be difficult and they may not work.
  • They protect the consumer from covert price changes.  Without scan laws, retailers are free to change their prices on a whim without notifying customers, who may potentially be unaware they’re spending more. Scan laws lead to uniformity in pricing practices that disallow covert or underhanded pricing tactics. According to most scan laws, a refund and ‘bounty’ is awarded to customers who are victims of inaccurate pricing.

How to utilize scan laws

  • Always double-check prices at the register, particularly sale items. Watch the prices as your items are scanned and mention if there are any discrepancies from what you saw advertised.  Then check your receipt (preferably before you leave the building) just to make sure you didn’t miss anything. Even if you don’t choose to take advantage of the bounty law, you don’t want to unknowingly spend more than you’d planned.
  • Don’t be afraid to request a refund and your bounty. In most states, you have up to 30 days to notice and correct a pricing discrepancy on a receipt. The retailer is required to pay you the difference and up to ten times the amount of the difference, but not more than $5. This can still add up, especially if you were overcharged on more than one item. You may feel as if you’re taking advantage of the retailer by claiming bounty, but just remember that it’s the law, and nothing personal. You can be sure they will correct their mistake so it doesn’t happen again, which benefits other customers, as well. Of course, some people get greedy and purposely look for items to claim bounty on, making a living off of retailers mistakes. Retailers often refer to these types as ‘bounty hunters.’  But in a way, even theses types help ensure more accurate pricing for everyone.

Scan laws are in place to protect shoppers and save them money. By being aware of the scan laws in your state, you can be more prepared to utilize them when you’re shopping and help keep retailers accountable to future customers. Visit your state government’s website or the consumer protection bureau to learn more about the scan laws specific to your state.

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