Daily Archives: November 8, 2012

Consumer alert: Safeway stores in California accused of continued overcharging

Safeway’s “Just for You” and “Deal Match” promotions for regular shoppers can deliver signifant savings, but Safeway’s check-out computers tend to miss promised discounts, leading to overcharges. To get the full value of these promotions requires careful checking of receipts to be sure items rang up with the promised discounts.

Safeway supermarkets in California have been accused of widespread overcharging customers and failing to comply with a court order stemming from an earlier lawsuit brought by state regulators, according to published accounts.

Although the allegations do not involve consumers in Hawaii, stores in the two states depend on the same corporate computer system for pricing and processing sales, meaning similar problems could be occuring here.

According to CBS 5 in San Francisco, the company was sued by state regulators twice in 2003, and again in 2008.

As a result of the most recent judgment against the supermarket chain (.pdf), if an item under $5 scans at the register for more than the lowest advertise price, Safeway and Vons must give the customer the item for free (limit 1 item – the other items must be given at the lowest advertised price). If an item is over $5, Safeway is supposed to give the customer a $5 gift card. The judgment excludes dairy, alcohol, tobacco, fuel and pharmacy products.

“In all the years I’ve called them this I’ve never gotten the item for free,” complained John Mortimer of San Francisco who says he is regularly overcharged at Safeway.

The station then sent undercover shoppers into five Safeway stores in three different counties, and racked up five overcharges. None of the stores complied by offering the court-ordered consumer discounts when pricing errors were discovered.

According to an article this week on the Personal Money Network:

State inspectors in various states have reported transaction errors in varying percentages; California estimated in 2010 that 3 percent of all transactions result in the wrong price being scanned. North Carolina estimated 5 percent of store transactions in that state are erroneous. New York state found more than 500 of 1,000 transaction in a study of supermarkets were erroneously rung up in a 2010 investigation.

And DailyFinance.com this week reviewed Safeway Inc.’s shaky financial position.

In our own experience, two shopping trips to the Safeway in the Kaneohe Bay Shopping Center in recent weeks resulted in substantial overcharges at the cash register, which we quickly discovered. The charges were refunded at the store’s customer service desk, although that required waiting until someone came to see what we wanted. In one case, the overcharge was about $10, and the other about $6. So it definitely pays to shop carefully and monitor prices as they ring up.