Appearances are everything in pricing discrepancies

Enterprising television reporters at KGTV in San Diego caused Walmart some grief this week when they uncovered that prices were ringing up incorrectly on some items and customers were not being offered a $3 refund in keeping with a 2008 court order. To watch the video click here or continuing reading.

According to 10News, at a Walmart in San Marcos, a "Rollback" sign was posted on a shelf and advertising a game cartridge on sale. In the same aisle, another children's game cartridge was marked down. Elsewhere in the store, two different air filters were flagged with sale signs and a bath toy was listed on clearance. 10News found that these bargains in the aisle were not bargains at the register. One by one, each of the five items scanned at a price higher than what was displayed on the shelf or on the item itself. When 10News pointed out the pricing errors, they were immediately corrected.

In 2008, the San Diego District Attorney and the state Attorney General jointly filed a civil lawsuit against Walmart for pricing overcharges that were discovered in a statewide investigation. Though Walmart never admitted any guilt, they paid more than $1.4 million in the settlement and signed off on a court order to improve their pricing accuracy. The court order specified that if an item scanned at a price higher than advertised or displayed, the customer would receive an extra $3 off the item. If the item was less than $3, the customer would get the item for free. 

The court-ordered pricing accuracy policy applied to every Walmart in California and went into effect beginning in November 2008 through November 2012. But in the San Marcos store, the customer service manager could not get the court-ordered policy correct. When 10News mentioned the policy, 10News was incorrectly told that only one $3 discount was allowed, even though 10News were overcharged for five different items. 

10News discovered later that the $3 discount was never received. The receipt showed that a $3 charge had been added and then removed. According to the policy, 10News should have received $15 off for the overcharges. 

10News was not the only one checking up on Walmart. 

“We are aware of reports where the consumers are not getting $3 off,” said Deputy District Attorney Gina Darvas, who heads the Consumer Protection Unit. 

Darvas helped create the Walmart lawsuit in 2008 and said the agreement also required a sign explaining the policy to be posted at every checkout stand in every Walmart in California. The court even specified exactly what the sign should say and what it should look like. 

“We found that signs are not posted at every location,” said Darvas. 

10News researchers visited all 18 Walmart locations in the county. Six stores didn't have the signs up as required. In some cases, the signs were not posted at every register. Some stores had a different sign that did not explain the special policy. 

Every time 10News was overcharged for a product, 10News had to point out the policy and signs to Walmart staff to receive the extra discount. Walmart staff never initiated the policy on their own. 

For instance, at the Walmart in El Cajon, 10News researcher Ashley Novack was overcharged for a baseball cap. It scanned at $7, but the price sticker on the cap read $5. An employee helped with the price error, but Novack had to ask for the additional $3 off. 

“He said, 'I do not know if that's the policy. I need to check with a manager,’” said Novack. 

10News was overcharged for baby wipes at the Walmart on Vista Way in Oceanside. Again, 10News had to point out the sign at the register and read the policy to the cashier. 

Darvas said that's not the way it's supposed to work. It should not be the customer's burden to remind Walmart of the policy. 

“Our goal is to have the required signs posted at every register and to have every employee in Walmart know that when a consumer is overcharged, they need to give the $3 off,” said Darvas. 

When 10News informed Walmart of overcharging and violations of the court order, a spokesperson for Walmart responded, “We are looking into this matter. Walmart strives for pricing accuracy and we are committed to offering our customers the best possible value.”