Shopping where the price is wrong

Supermarket price deception and obfuscation was not even on my radar until I read Shirley-Ann Wood’s special-to-the-Bovine report which appears below. You see, I hardly ever shop at the supermarket anymore. This is not the result of any ideological decision to separate myself from the corporate food industry. 

It just gradually happened that my “dollar votes” have slowly shifted to farmers, farmers markets and health-food stores. But lots of people do shop at supermarkets. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say they trust those supermarkets to clearly and honestly display product prices and they trust that prices charged at the checkout correctly match those displayed in the store.

How to corner nearly the whole market without appearing to do so -- Loblaws and their many aliases (aka brands)

How to corner nearly the whole market without appearing to do so -- Loblaws and their many aliases (aka "brands). This image is from smartcanucks.ca; its title is "loblaws-canada.jpg". See what I mean!

 I am not a great writer, nor do I seek to be recognized as a savvy, sarcastic journalist. I am writing simply to express a deep frustration, and truthfully, what is probably more than just a frustration. The topic is a small component of a much larger picture, nonetheless……….

Every so often I read negative reports on Glencolton farms, and how it operates the vending of food in the blue bus. Of note is that the prices are not labelled on the products nor on the four shelves in the bus on which the products are placed. The journalists never mention that Michael, or whoever is there, will always have the price of each article available, and will tell us or write it out if we ask. There is no avoidance of such matters, and most of all no deception. I will return to that word ….. “deception”….later on, when it fits more appropriately.

Earlier this week on the bus, I picked up some eggs to purchase. A man in front of me, who I had never met before, asked me the price of the eggs. I paused. I was not sure. I thought, here is this guy, and he’s going to write about how the people in line don’t know the price of what they are buying….and that we are just being duped. I also felt self conscious because I did not automatically know the price. What this man did not know, was that I often have a problem remembering numbers. When I do get myself to calm down inside, I can usually recall what I am being asked but I don’t like being put on the spot. I mumbled out three possibilities. Then I realized, if this guy asked me how much eggs cost at the supermarket,

I wouldn’t know that either, and I told him so. Now here is the million dollar question…..when I go to get my items tallied at the cashier in the supermarket, or at the end of the blue bus…..where do you think I will or will not be scammed? Like Glencolton’s perfect record of no one getting sick from raw milk since the beginning of its operation…..no one has ever been scammed or deceived on Glencolton’s bus. The supermarket is a totally different story.

Now, here comes the crux of my frustration. On the blue bus I have always been treated respectfully and fairly, without fail. Today, interestingly, I was at the supermarket. Loblaws to be exact. A Loblaws in North York, Ontario. I was in a rush and had to pick up a few items …one being mozzarella cheese. I saw two balls of mozzarella…one for $5.99 and another for $5.49. I deliberately chose the latter….and remarkably the prices stuck in my head. With my items, I went to the self check-out. Guess what my mozzarella ball rang through at? Right!….not the right price, but it rang through at $5.99. I went to the cashier and asked her to check. She called over to the deli and I finished checking out. Still waiting for a reply on the cheese price, I decided to go over and check it out myself. As I walked over, I noticed a couple of employees fussing with the price label for the cheese on the shelf. I couldn’t believe it! I said, “What are you doing? Are you changing the price?” “Yes,” the worker replied. I said, “I have been waiting for the correct price and you are changing it while I wait, and then you will report the changed price to me?” She replied that the $5.49 price was wrong and she had to change it. This is deception. I asked for the manger.

After waiting by the customer service desk, while an employee phoned for the manager, I spotted the manager myself.

He was up on an overhanging balcony, above the produce section talking to the assistant manager and another man. I walked over to them from below, and told them to wait where they were as I was coming up to speak with them. The assistant manager was sent to meet me en route, but I encouraged him to come along with me to speak with the other two as well. All three men listened while I told the story of the lower-priced cheese. The manager….of course….apologized and asked what he could do?

I told him to change the way he did business, and to cut the deception….for example, the price of produce is displayed in large, bold numbers in pounds and much smaller numbers in kilograms; but the weigh scales do not display clearly, any units, although they are in kilograms. Shoppers see the large bold numbers in pounds for fruit, and then weigh them on the scale thinking the bold numbers on display match the numbers on the scales.

The result is that people often purchase double the cost of what they intend to. It is a very deceptive practice, or at least set up to obfuscate the real price. Why in Canada do we still have pounds at the supermarket, when we changed to the metric system over thirty years ago? Gas stations cannot advertise or sell gasoline in gallons any more….metric only. Time for some supermarket regulations. I had to try to explain this to an older woman at Loblaws once, who could not understand why the cost of her cherries were so expensive….and she was visibly very upset and confused. The store was unfair and uncaring. I spoke to the manager then, too.

In the end of today’s encounter, the manager gave me my cheese for free….I told him to think about his store. I suggested he set up the first supermarket to act fairly. Somewhere in the conversation he told me he was the little guy. “You are not the little guy,” I told him, “you are Loblaws!” I thought to myself that Michael Schmidt is a little guy, and honest in his farming practices…meticulous really. Look at what they are doing to him! I find supermarkets terrible the way they scam people, and many people are perhaps unaware. I told the manager, “Why don’t you be the first to change. People would come, because you were fair.” He also said that there was no where else to get food (interesting comment)…..I said, “Oh yes there is….grow your own, farmers, and smaller vendors…..that’s where I usually go.”

I can also tell you of an experience from Zehrs [another of Loblaws’ brands] in Orangeville a number of years ago. They had marked down their “Farmer Market” pies by two dollars. However when the pie was rung through at the cashier, I was charged the original price (up $2.00) and not the sale price. When I pointed the discrepancy out to the cashier, she said that this happens because the pricing is all done by computers, to which my husband replied that that should be all the more reason for no mistakes. We went to the bakery area and spoke to the people who do the pricing and informed them of the error with the pies. They apologised and said they would correct it. Two days later I returned, and purchased another pie. The discounted price was still advertised on the shelf with the pies, but, surprisingly it did not ring through with the cashier. I complained more heartily, and was told it would be rectified.

As it happened, I was in the store again the very next day, and I made a point of purchasing the same pie again. It was still on sale. One would think by now the situation would certainly be rectified. Nope. The pie rang through at $2.00 above the advertised price. I asked to speak to the manager, and had to wait a while for him to appear. When I told him what had happened and threatened to write an article to the newspaper, he replied that mistakes happen and even doctors make mistakes. Perhaps once is a mistake, not three times in a row, and I told him so. I also said that a doctor making such a blatant and repetitive mistake would lose his licence. Irrelevant anyway. It wasn’t a mistake. It was deception.

So enough of sarcastic writers writing about the fact that a small operation of one blue bus with four shelves holding a few baked goods, breads, eggs and dairy products, does not put the costs of each item on display. Why don’t you write about something real…..deception in supermarkets, just take a stroll down any aisle…just like the President’s Choice Tzatziki my daughter discovered . It costs about $2 for a 227 g tub, and about $6 for double the size. Go figure that one out. There’s a reason….these guys are smart. Most people have supermarket stories themselves…just ask.

Leave an honest farmer alone….and investigate where the real problems are. Better yet….value an honest farmer, and those who help to make society and our environment a better place. Our family does.

— Shirley Ann Wood

Lead image comes from smartcanucks.ca

Ed — I can’t say I’ve had similar experiences with price unclarity at the grocery store. But then maybe I just haven’t been paying such close attention when my stuff was rung through. Let’s hope Shirley-Ann’s report is indicative more of a few bad apples than of a systemic problem. But it is odd that she would have run into so many bad apples. The pounds and kilos issue is particularly disturbing; could it be a corporate marketing strategy? Is that what the manager meant when he said he was just a little guy? If I were Loblaws, I’d be taking note!

4 Comments

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4 responses to “Shopping where the price is wrong

  1. In the modern age of bar codes and bar code scanners I have made a practice to carry a marking pen with me to the stores.
    That is to All Stores and I write on the package the SALE price so I can keep at least most of the time stores from over charging me.
    Don’t be afraid to make a public scene be loud so many store customers are aware of the problem, about incorrect prices.
    They always charge me the sale price or I tell them where they can put that item and it’s not always back on the store shelf.

  2. Bernie Bailey

    Hello Shirley
    The bar code was never intended for pricing , some person did not put the sale price tag on the proper shelve for the weeks flyer (all though the Ontario laws say that ALL products have to be priced individually)sent out by the global companies that dictates to the corporate / local store and this resulted in your dilemma. The bar code came into effect in the late seventies and early eighties–let me try to explain globalisation in your back yard for you. in the early days the local store would buy direct from local farmers , companies and traveling sales people for companies such as Maple Leaf ,Campbell Soup etc. but a new idea emerged and all local stores would form a buying group like IGA , food land etc. and this buying group then hired a company to buy product and then put flyer’s together so the local store owner did not have this work and buying power from there we go to wholesale companies that would get local stores to sign contracts that allowed the wholesale company to by all the products and offer a hidden rebate based on volume to the stores getting rid of local processes and producers unless the processors payed a fee to be on the list (this started at 2% and now is as high as 24% of sales for the privilege of no local competition in the local store that is now a corporate store in disguise, the bar code was introduced so that the global companies could verify through the till that all stores were obeying the kick back scheme and this involved into all companies (processors and manufacturers) having bar codes as the civil servants could track sales of all companies so they new when to get rid of small , growing companies in favor of their global companies—search Bernie Bailey on this sight to see how this works,your politicians are powerless against this as it is civil servants that run government and only when the press has a story will politicians of all stripes react to save there company which is liberal conservative or ndp as they are really just companies fighting to be the biggest.
    still one vote
    Bernie
    PS– if you have any questions –just ask even if you work for the government and are reading this

  3. cowboss

    Hello Shirley

    A couple more points about Loblaws and “deception”. I do not know if you have noticed or not, BUT Loblaws has been very active in the selling of US “feces feed beef” this spring and summer. This “stuff” has been condemned by CFIA as a heath risk to consumers and the practise of feeding feces to food animals has been banned in Canada. I have brought this issue up to Loblaws management and quite frankly they just do not seem to give one dam. I guess they are just waiting for their customers to get sick or die, and hoping that the “cause” cannot be proven.

    I have also asked them to Stop selling Arsenic fed poultry and pork products. Again they have effectively stuck their head in a bucket of sand. About the Arsenic, it is not only a risk to the consumers, BUT the effects on our environment (water, air, and food crops grown on the manure contaminated land) are huge.

    When will these folk “Get with the program?”

    cowboss

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