Don't Read Conspiracy Into Checkout Scanner Slipups
I just read your article "Maybe they should call them `scammers"' (News: Analysis & Commentary, Jan. 16), about the inaccuracies and overcharging of consumers due to price scanners. I am a loss-prevention and security consultant, and one thing that has amazed me for years is signs at supermarkets stating: "If an item scans higher than the price marked, then it is free."
This offer is shortsighted and inherently has one big problem that hundreds of retailers have failed to recognize. Simply put, the sign should state: "If an item scans incorrectly from the price marked, then it is free." A retailer would rarely find out about undercharges and its own loss without this approach.
Many retailers have not thought out their scanning policies and systems sufficiently to prevent loss as well as promote accuracy. Sometimes technology moves faster than common sense.
Your article about the errors in pricing when using electronic checkout systems implied that retailers are tilting the error factor in the retailer's favor. As a matter of fact, some 20% to 40% of the pricing mistakes attributed to scanners are, in fact, due to the electrical interference caused by powerful magnetic fields turning on and off, such as from a nearby belt-feed system. This electrical interference can be the source of computer lockups and strange errors that are, unfortunately, more often than not blamed on the operator. It simply is untrue that computers never make errors.
Experience has shown that errors caused by electrical interference will be all over the place--as likely to be in the customer's favor as the retailer's. But no matter what you say, the scanner and its associated electronic equipment are far more accurate than the old cash register and a tired checkout clerk at the end of the last shopping day before Christmas.
Ben G. Crosby
National Retail Sales Manager
I'm in charge of testing all weights-and-measures devices in Hamilton County, Ohio. As part of our procedures, we routinely check scanners in grocery, hardware, drug, and convenience stores. Seldom do we find outrageous errors. We do our best to catch the errors through random samples and notify the appropriate corporate officials of our findings.
The National Conference on Weights & Measures is just now developing standards for field work on testing scanners in conjunction with the National Institute of Standards & Technology. While 100% accuracy is the ideal, as long as humans must enter the information, there will be errors. Our experience is that most businesses will fix any errors we find immediately. And many of them also have a scan-right-or-free policy. In any case, the consumer must still watch at the checkout.
Kevin E. Pyle
Director of Assessments
Hamilton County Auditor's Office
How is the consumer to remember the price of each item from the shelf label?
Martha J. Fenn