How DATCP inspectors respond to price gouging consumer complaints

Many consumers are concerned about overpaying at the register.
Published: Nov. 21, 2022 at 11:40 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 21, 2022 at 6:53 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - With rising inflation, shoppers are taking notice of higher prices at the grocery store. Many consumers are concerned about overpaying at the register.

During times of economic downturn, the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection’s Bureau of Weights and Measures says there’s always an uptick in consumer complaints.

NBC15's Gabriella Rusk tags along with DATCP supervisor, Gregory Loreck, as he conducts a price...
NBC15's Gabriella Rusk tags along with DATCP supervisor, Gregory Loreck, as he conducts a price inspection.(WMTV)

INSPECTING THE CHECKOUT

The agency believes this rise in price gouging complaints is because consumers are paying closer attention to prices on the shelf and the price on their receipts.

Whenever a complaint is received, the department follows up with a price inspection at a business. This is also done on a biannual basis at most retailers across the state.

Supervisor Gregory Loreck is tasked with completing price inspections.

“It’s important to make sure that consumers have the confidence to pay what they think they’re paying,” said Loreck.

Price inspections can take up to several hours at a bigger store. An inspector, like Gregory, will randomly select fifty products, mark down what the price tag is, and scan the product’s barcode.

Then, the copied barcodes are rung up at the register and a full receipt is processed.

From there, the tedious work begins. Inspectors must cross-check what an item is marked as with what is rung up on the receipt.

“We compare the shelf pricing or any advertised pricing to what the register rings up for the customer to make sure that there’s no inaccuracies,” said Loreck. “We go item by item down the receipt to see what the customer is seeing and what we marked as the shelf tag.”

Supervisor Gregory Loreck randomly selects 50 products, marks down their price tags, and scans...
Supervisor Gregory Loreck randomly selects 50 products, marks down their price tags, and scans the item as part of an inspection.(WMTV)

The inspectors are looking to make sure businesses adhere to Wisconsin State Statute 98.08 which reads as follows:

“A person who uses an electronic scanner to record the price of a commodity or thing and who sells the commodity or thing at a price higher than the posted or advertised price of that commodity or thing at least shall refund to a person who purchases the commodity or thing the difference between the posted or advertised price of the commodity or thing and the price charged at the time of sale.”

Loreck says if consumers are paying attention to an item’s price tag and note a difference on their receipt, they can bring it up to the store and the price must be adjusted.

Consumers can also file a complaint with DATCP and the agency will follow up and inspect the business.

“It’s kind of a tiered enforcement policy,” explained Loreck. “If there’s one error or one failure, we go back and recheck to make sure it’s not a problem.”

With high inflation, shoppers may be looking more closely at the price tags.
With high inflation, shoppers may be looking more closely at the price tags.(WMTV)

MONITORING PRICE TAGS

During times of high inflation, the Wisconsin Grocers Association says the last thing grocers want to do is to raise their prices.

President Brandon Scholz says there are many factors at play before a grocer raises the price tags.

“You can’t just wake up one day and say ‘I think we’re going to jack up prices,’” explained Scholz. “Because remember who this is going to affect the most: it’s the shoppers.”

He says grocers consider the availability of a good, what its cost is to the store, and what the competition is charging.

“You try and keep them as low as you can. You try and get through those tough inflationary times when consumers are trying to figure out where and how they’re going to spend their dollar,” added Scholz.

Grocers are in agreement that it will take some time before prices stabilize.

”People are going to have to be patient, grocers are going to have to be patient,” said Scholz. “They’re going to have to work overtime to make sure they’re customers are happy and they can get what they want.”

Shoppers are making the most of their budgets when going to the grocery store.
Shoppers are making the most of their budgets when going to the grocery store.(WMTV)

FILING A COMPLAINT

If you think a business may be at fault, you can file a complaint with DATCP’s Bureau of Weights and Measures. You can call 608-224-4942 or email datcpweightsandmeasures@wi.gov.

To do this online, click HERE.

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