Hank Investigates: Unit Price
Ok bargain hunters, how do you choose the best buy on say, the spaghetti sauce? Problem is there’s the big jar and the little jar and the multi pack.
"You need to do a lot of calculation to sort that out."
Not in Massachussetts you don't, state law requires the store to do the calculation and post what’s called the unit price highlighted in orange on the shelf tag. It's the price per pound or ounce or quart or piece.
"That's how you compare and that's how you buy."
"It's how you know what’s cheaper."
State officials say the unit price is the key to making an educated purchase.
Charles Carroll, MA Division of Standards
"Without unit pricing, a consumer would not be able to tell which one is the best buy."
But we found in some of the largest stores in Massachusetts, customers are being misled about the prices they're paying! We found posted unit prices often incorrect, store management unaware of the errors and state officials only now beginning to investigate.
"We found this happened over and over."
"It's a violation of the regulations and the state law."
To show you what happened, let's go shopping in some of the most popular stores in Massachusetts. With a hidden camera and a calculator we checked dozens of unit price calculations – snacks, salad dressing, dish soap, tea bags, granola bars and canned potatoes. After all shoppers, how often do you check to make sure the unit prices are correct?
"If it was wrong, I probably wouldn’t notice."
But time after time the prices just didn't compute. At Costco in Dedham this 3.8 ounce box of drink mix costs $6.69. The unit price label says that's 12.39 per pound. But figure it out, you're really paying $28.16 a pound! Shockingly higher.
At Big K in South Bay, 2 ounces of baby cream is marked $26.85 a pound -- that's wrong – it’s really $27.92! More than a dollar more! Chose those items or bottled water, snack food, popcorn and numerous others we found in those stores…and customers are buying blind.
Jim Dion, Marketing Expert
"They don't get the absolute best deal that they thought they were."
At B.J.'s in Weymouth and B.j.'s in Westboro many posted unit prices were simply incorrect. Example: for these snack crackers the unit price says $2.28 per pound. But we found you're really paying $2.66 a pound! And at Sam's Club in Natick, again we found unit prices were wrong. One example: iced tea is marked $4.92 a pound, but the correct unit price is more than $29 dollars!
Sometimes the mistakes were in the customer's favor, but wrong is wrong.
"The customer is being misled because the unit price is incorrect."
No store executives would discuss the pricing problems on camera but all – surprised -- admitted their prices were incorrect. They called it a combination of computer software glitches and inaccurate data entry. Pricing experts know how it can happen.
"Garbage in, garbage out. If somebody on a data entry makes a mistake, that's going to cause an error."
Now as a result of our investigation B.J.'s told us, "We have begun a review of our process and an internal audit of labels." Sam's Club: "we are checking and correcting any and all unit pricing issues." Big K: "We are definitely investigating." And Costco: "We were wrong. We're not accurate in the way were calculating item prices and were going to fix it."
Now, while stores promise to shape up, at many places the price is still wrong and that has unhappy shoppers getting ready to do some math.
"You have to look at it and add it up and see if it really comes out the way they say it does."
Massachusetts law says unit pricing errors are punishable by a fine of ten dollars each! After seeing our results, state officials are now starting an investigation of their own.