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Quebec's consumer watchdog bites big retailers: The price is right

The price is right

Quebec’s Office de la protection du consommateur is on a roll this week. It fined Montreal-area outlets of Future Shop, Canadian Tire, Pharmacie Jean Coutu and Rona L’entrepôt thousands of dollars for incorrectly pricing products.

The OPC fines are the first of another 15 to be announced next week for stores in other cities throughout Quebec. "This doesn’t happen this often, but this year we have a new rule that says all prices must be labelled," says OPC spokesperson Jean-Jacques Préaux. "If there isn’t a price on the product you want to buy, the store must at least provide a barcode scanner so you can verify the price."

For incorrectly listing prices – Préaux says OPC fines begin at $2,000 per infraction – the Canadian Tire outlet at 6700 Côtes-des-Neiges was fined $6,500; the Future Shop at 1645 Des Corbusiers in Laval was fined $14,500; Pharmacie Jean Coutu at 531 Jarry E. was fined $10,500; and Rona L’entrepôt at 3065 Le Carrefour Blvd. in Laval was fined $10,500.

"Our inspectors visited the stores and discovered irregularities," Préaux says.

The OPC, created in 1971, enforces Quebec’s Consumer Protection Act, which governs contracts involving goods and services, contracts of credit, contracts relating to automobiles and motorcycles, repair of household appliances, business practices, advertising and warranties.

But Préaux admits the OPC is unable to catch all the mistakes.

"Consumers who notice a discrepancy should tell the store cashier," Préaux says. "Or the consumer can return the product afterwards if they discover they paid more for something than was advertised in a circular. The consumer can also contact us and we’ll [check out the] situation. But problems aren’t usually with the circulars. Usually it’s the regularly priced items."

For those who want to know whether any complaints have been filed against any given merchant, the OPC advises consumers to consult the search engine on their www.opc.gouv.qc.ca website.

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  19 comments

  • by Heath Abram - September 15, 2005, 1:45 pm

    Consumers must be aware at all times of how much an item costs and then make sure they are getting that price. It is up to us to verify these things. Even when I’m at the grocery store, I know how much an item costs and I make sure it is scanned correctly. There has been many a time when I have received an article for free because they made a mistake. Can you imagine what a difference that can make on a big ticket item? I don’t know about you, but I would rather have the money in my pocket rather than theirs!

  • by Pedro Eggers - September 15, 2005, 5:12 pm

    I should say that I’m shocked but I honestly can’t…and I rather doubt that any of you can either. The bigger the store the bigger the irregularities. It’s a simple fact to remember because the bigger the store the bigger becomes the greed that drives it. I collect DVDs and if you’d done some price comparisons like I have you’d have to conclude that someone somewhere screwed up something fierce. The same item cannot a 25$ difference between establishments and yet I’ve seen it happen. Archambault, anyone? My personal suggestion is that you do your research before you drop down some cold hard green…not after.

  • by Gavin Roy - September 16, 2005, 1:41 pm

    If you’re looking for the best prices, then look for them. That’s why it’s called that. If you’re making an impulse buy at the store then deal with it. It’s an impulse buy. So in that regard I feel no pity for customer stupid enough to grab something without a price and purchase it without asking what the price is, and then knowing if that’s reasonable or not. You have to understand when you go to a store that carries hundreds of thousands of items (not exagerrating) that even with the item being tagged when they come in, those stickers peels of when the items are shelved or left in the backstore, or when the customer takes it off. There are also websites like http://www.redflagdeals.com or dealsoutlet where you can go to find the best price. The jist of all this is, to get the best price, you have to be the best shopper.

  • by Stephen Talko - September 19, 2005, 12:33 am

    If the price is wrong I do not complain but bring it to their attention and get the item free if worth less than $10.00 or $10.00 off if the item is worth more than this amount. If the price has not been corrected I go back to the store to get more articles at the same low price.
    If the price drops at the same store within a certain time period many stores will refund you the difference. I took advantage of this when I purchased my first scanner. Another time the price in the store for ink cartridges was less than the price I paid on their website and they gave me the difference.
    I have noticed that the pricing scanners in stores are hard to find and often out of order. Once the bar code on an item was of such poor quality that it could not be read and a sales clerk had to key in all ten digits at their terminal to give me the price.

  • by Donald Dubeau - September 19, 2005, 1:38 am

    As a society, we have come so far from the technologically absent caveman era. Despite such breakthroughs, something as basic as goods and services pricing remains an unattainable goal. Im not sure the exact explanatuon for such an event( whether it be a major case of human error, or a matter of corporate or individual laziness), but its definately a scenario that can be easily resolved. The longer these irregularities continue, corporations will have a monetary nightmare on their hands , with all the fines (and price corrections that they will haver to make), which can only benefit the government, helping to provide possibly another source of much needed income.

  • by Rob Postuma - September 20, 2005, 12:08 am

    The bulk of the problem lies in the fact that consumers tend to be so apathetic that we accept any conditions that stores shoot at us- even if it’s outright stealing and/or theft.
    Consumers should know that in Quebec that it’s mandatory for retailers to subscribe to the Scanner Price Voluntary Code – which despite the name is mandatory in Quebec. What this does is address the problem of incorrect pricing in stores using scanners/codes – which amazingly enough tend to overcharge the consumer 80% plus of the time ( just a coinscedence I am sure ). For items that are overcharged which cost less than $ 10.00 – the item is free. For items $ 10 or more- you get at least $ 10 off. For more information contact: 1-866-499-4599
    It’s a consumer’s responsibility to take advantage of this code – by monitoring their bills when they make purchases – and demanding retailers honour this code- and re-imburse the “penalty” to consumers for overcharging. If enough consumers profit off their “mistakes” – it will force them to be more careful and vigilant when ringing you through the register. Remember, if no one does this – there is no incentive for the retailer to make sure their pricing is accurate – because they will profit from their mistakes.
    In the end – you’re helping other consumers as well- because the store will correct this mistake in their database- and not overcharge the enxt consumer- in fears of being “penalized” again.

  • by Joyce Stemkowsky - September 20, 2005, 10:38 am

    I think it is good to fine stores who don’t seem to care about consumers. I am a very careful shopper and know all the prices and often get things for free as well, but when I point out an error, I sometimes get an exasperated sigh of discontent, because it makes more work for the cashier. Then the people waiting in line are upset about a longer wait. Would they want to pay more, I sometimes ask?? If they got all their prices right, it would be better all around, although, I wouldn’t get my free articles anymore…..so maybe incompetence is good for me!

  • by Steve Landry - September 20, 2005, 10:38 pm

    Funny that Canadian Tire is on the list of companies that were fined. Just last week, I presented an item at the cash register that was listed for $5.99 on the shelf and the item did not have a price on it. The cashier scanned the item and it came up at $7.49.
    I told her that the price on the shelf said $5.99 on sale and she called the department by walkie-talkie for a “price check”. He came back to the cash and he told me that the item was in the wrong area and that they had put up a price sign by mistake.
    I tried to push the issue gingerly and the cashier called a manager over who repeated what the department “guru” had told me. I tried to push a little more explaining that I, as a customer have no knowledge of their shelving policies or that something has been mispriced.
    I repeated several times that the only reason I had picked up the item was because of the price and felt that the change in price at the cash, may be preceived as a possible bait-and-switch-way of getting customers to think they know what’s really going on with regard to the price of an item.
    I left the item at the cash, confused and deceived by the lack of customer service and a petty argument for $1.50.
    Aren’t customers worth more than a few bucks?

  • by Alexander Yu - September 21, 2005, 12:49 pm

    When I shop at big stores rarely do I find anything without a price. Although I’ve had a number of troubles with the grocery stores… but to be honest I don’t think pricing is a problem at all. If it’s too good to be true it probably is, there’s a small fine print somewhere. The second problem is how much are companies willing to follow the rules? The employees aren’t to blame they were probably told to try to make it harder for the customer because they know if they got the pricing wrong they have to either give them the price or give it to them for free depending on the price. But that’s big stores where if you have a problem just leave, and if you do your research shopping there is no problem.
    Now what do you do when you visit small stores? Some items don’t have prices and when you ask the store clerk can give you a price depending what he thinks. Sometimes he might increase the price if he doesn’t like your ethnicity. Now how fair is that? I couldn’t remember the last time I visit a different ethnic store and the owner eyed me as I were some deviant. And then if I asked for a price he’d look at me as if I’m not supposed to buying it.
    To me I think that’s a bigger problem than the small discount stores because sometimes consumers don’t know how much they are being charged and I don’t think it’s fair that some people get a different price than others. Yeah Big stores are evil in the way they do business and buying stuff from them can be a hassle. But what’s good about them is that you can actually return stuff and at least you know the price within ±10% of the actual price if anything. Yeah they make mistakes and but considering how much more smaller stores are out there, perhaps the Consumer protection agency might look a bit into them too.

  • by Roxane Gibault - September 21, 2005, 11:02 pm

    Merchants should show their prices clearly on their merchandise, if they don’t they could be taking advantage of our wallets, I’m glad that this new law now exists, we need all the help we can get so the big companies don’t take advantage of us, we have to beware and be smart shoppers because these big companies are there to make a buck, one way or another…

  • by Brian Fung - September 24, 2005, 2:29 am

    The OPC is doing a great job, their new law is fantastic and it will help us greatly, it will protect us from the errors that companies might do wether it’s on purpose or not, this way we’ll have less chance to lose the money that we work so hard to earn. Great job OPC!!!

  • by Hubert Figuière - September 25, 2005, 11:11 pm

    Is that the only thing they do? Checking prices in store?
    Because maybe, instead of tracking the label errors (go and try to keep thousands of product references in sync with a database changing everyday, sure there will be some mistakes), they should try to have a look at several other things that are not in favor of the consumers.
    Item #1:
    Prize advertising with rebates. Have a look at how confusing they are: they remove the price of the rebate, even mail-in rebate, sometime making you believe that it is a bonus item free (no, you get a rebate of the price before tax for that item), etc. There should be a law against that confusing advertising and action being taken. Currently the situation is not in favor of the consumer.
    Item #2:
    Bundle sales. Believe it or not, bundle sales a real common practice in today business and it is all in favor of big corporations. I had a talk with the Competition Bureau Canada, and the conclusion was that to take any action you had to prove that there was a real bundle sale performed (in that case some third-party software sold with a device that is not a computer device), either by finding the same product without that bundle software (impossible the bundle is made by the manufacturer, and the competing product are not equal), or prove that that was not a bonus of $0 (actually finding the corresponding software for $150 in a store nearby does not count either). I come to the conclusion that the law is made by and for the benefit of big corporations. And consumers pay the price again.
    I could have much more examples to give.
    I would just say that this article made me smile. It is like celebrating that the police fine a whole bunch of traffic violators (speeding, dangerous driving) in a week-end. Sure it help, but it does not solve much problems.

  • by Tricia Jenkins - September 28, 2005, 3:43 pm

    This actually just happened to me recently at a WalMart. I was going to buy swimming goggles. The price tag showed one price(very affordable)- where every single goggle was from the same mark and same size, etc. Unfortunately the price of these goggles turned up 3x the price of what was indicated on the scanner. But because of the law of the consumer, I ended up getting them for free because of the price issue. Pretty good law, and I’m happy to know that such a law is instilled to assure consumer rights and that such companies do not ‘rip off’ their customers.

  • by Andrea Silva - October 16, 2005, 10:11 am

    I think that the bigger the store the more errors can be produced and it’s not always the intention of price gauging (we know computers are not perfect as it takes a person to input the data to be processed and some people don’t always do their jobs well). I think in some cases wrongly priced items for instance can be someone new on the job incorrectly pricing an item on shelf and the bigger the store the more items to price the more chances for a mistake and who is going to go everyday item by item double checking the prices? And how many times have you or someone you’ve seen picked up an item and then placed it back on the wrong shelf? Of course I do not want to be the one to pay a huge price difference but then I am not going to fuss over a few cents difference if it’s the case. We have the freedom to shop where we want, heck that is why we have so many retail stores selling the same products, it’s competition and what would competition be if there was no difference in prices and quality of service?
    I think most people are happy to have the mistakes made just to argue out a pretty penny and feel the satisfaction of saving money. No one ever says anything if an item passes through the checkout lower then the sale price was (and yes it doesn happen!!) we just smile out ourselves with the satisfaction of a good buy.

  • by Gail MacKinnon - October 5, 2007, 12:39 pm

    Here is a copy of the e-mail I sent Canadian Tire after a problem at the cash!
    Hello,
    I have a complaint about the way I was treated in Canadian Tire (Fabreville store) this afternoon.
    While shopping for a few things for my home I noticed the Ecologs on sale at 7.99, I had recently heard about them so I thought I would try them since the price was resonable. When I got to the cash the item scanned at 9.99, I said to the cashier (who was in training) that I thought the price was 7.99 and she promptly called a clerk. Since there were a lot of people in the store I said to the cashier that I would go and check. I came back with the plastic display that had the price in it. The clerk got to the cash at the same time I did and he took the sale price card out of the plastic and left it with the cashier and took the regular price with him.
    The manager (Mr. Michel Vaillancourt) was called and he said “fine” and walked away. The cashier put the price in at 7.99 and I commented that it was supposed to be free at this point with the pricing policy. The manager was called again and said the he just had the sale card and he didn’t know where it came from. I told him that his clerk took it out of the plastic display and just left it at the cash and he said “I will not give it to you free, you can pay 7.99 but you will not get it free”. I did mention that the law now is that if an item scans at the wrong price that it should be free and he repeated that he would not give it to me. I then left the store after asking him his name, Michel Vaillancourt. I feel that I was mistreated, I did not make a scene because there were a lot of people in the store. Is Canadian Tire a store that I should avoid? What exactly is your policy?
    I am hoping to hear from you in the near future.

    Gail MacKinnon
    Fabreville, Laval

  • by Rachel Smith - March 19, 2009, 9:56 am

    If the store has the wrong price and it is under $10.00 and you have more then 1 do you get them all for free or do you only get 1 free and the others at the price there of what they should be

  • by Carole Stewart - May 26, 2009, 8:00 am

    Would you please inform me if a major store is oblicated to take back a purchase.
    Namely washer and drier set that is not workable in our home.
    (1) washer is more noisy then unit we had for 25yrs
    (2) drier does not fit in location as their is no side vent outlet and unit stands off wall more then 10ins.
    Purshase was made at Brault & Martineau in Laval.
    When we contacted them on returning the purchase there response was that all merchandise
    after delivery is not returnable
    Thank You

  • by Rosamaria Koppes - December 5, 2009, 4:48 pm

    I went shopping at the Bay December 5, 2009 and saw several tables piled high with men’s leather gloves. Each table had a 30% off display sign in front of the gloves. I chose a pair at $24.99. When I got to the cash, the gloves scanned in at $29.99 at which point the cashier turned to me and said, ” The computer says that the gloves are $29.99 not $24.99 as indicated on the label is that ok with you?”. I replied No that it was incorrect and also enquired as to the 30% off. She replied that all items ending in .99 were not part of the sale. She brought me one of the signs from the tables and in very small fine print it was indicated as she said. I found it misleading. I then said to her if an object scans incorrectly by law I am supposed to get $10.00 off. She was unaware of the law. I asked for the manager who claimed that giving $10 off for an incorrect scan was not a policy of the store. When I told her that it was not the store’s choice and that it was a provincial law, she told me that she was not able to give $10 as she was unaware of any such regulation.

  • by f. toye - June 23, 2012, 10:27 pm

    I would like to see the consummers protection law applies to stores who advertised electrontic products, like televisions, stereo sound system and all
    other electronic devices, must indicate the models numbers being advertised
    on sale. Because just for a picture prints, it is often misleading, there is many models resemble alike, but not the same. To ensured the product is well presented without confusions, the model numbers should be indicated.

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