Consumer Advocates Challenge Wal-Mart’s Push for Bailout from State Pricing Laws

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As a throng of Wal-Mart executives is set to descend on the State House today to convince legislators to bail them out of a law requiring most grocery items to have price stickers, consumer advocates reminded elected officials that consumer laws like item pricing protect every shopper in the Commonwealth at the checkout.

“The last company in the world that needs a state bailout to boost profits at the expense of consumers is Wal-Mart,” said MASSPIRG Legislative Director Deirdre Cummings. “With shoppers counting their pennies in the current economy, we need more price disclosure, not less.”

According to Cummings, price stickers on groceries let shoppers find and compare the cost of items easily, and help them catch overcharges at the checkout scanner. Without prices on items to refer to, it would be impossible for shoppers at home to verify whether the prices charged on their register receipt are accurate.

The bill that Wal-Mart and supermarket chains are pushing, H.4430, [fact sheet attached] would cut inspections and total fines, and allow supermarkets and grocery departments to remove prices from items if they pay a minimal “waiver fee” to the state and install self-service price scanners in some (but not all) store aisles for customers to check prices.

“Besides making it more inconvenient and time-consuming for shoppers to check prices on a cartful of items, it makes no sense to allow supermarkets to install aisle scanners that have already been proven to be grossly unreliable in department stores in test after test,” said Consumer World founder Edgar Dworsky, who authored the state’s food store item pricing law.

According  to Dworsky, a test of nearly 150 aisle scanners by Consumer World last summer at a dozen retail stores including Wal-Mart found that 70% of them failed to function properly or otherwise comply with state requirements.

“We hope legislators will side with shoppers, and recognize their overwhelming desire to keep prices on items and their dissatisfaction with aisle scanners,” said Dworsky. [See attached survey.]  “Wal-Mart and supermarkets should not be allowed to buy their way out consumer pricing laws that protect the shopping public.”