I DON?T know about you, but it annoys me when I go to the supermarket and have to search for the price of an item because it is now, more often than not, posted on the shelf rather than stuck to the product. I think the Department of Trade and Industry has allowed establishments to put the prices on the shelves instead of on the items.

You have to know if the product you want to buy is 500 ml or 250 ml or five ounces to get the correct price from the long line of prices pasted on the shelf. Sometimes people put back products in the wrong place. This is one reason people often find out when they get to the checkout counter that the register has a different price for an item. So supermarkets get complaints about discrepancies in posted and cash registry prices.

The problem is compounded if the items are in the lowest shelves. You have to be a contortionist to find out how much they cost.

Most supermarkets have price scanners but they are not always readily accessible. It is quite inconvenient to be going back and forth to find out how much everything costs.

93-year-old?s crusade

So I was quite taken by Bob Sullivan?s story in his Red Tape blog about Esther Shapiro, a 93-year-old consumer activist in Michigan. In the story published by MSNBC, he wrote about Shapiro?s dismay over the Michigan legislature?s decision to allow establishments to use shelf tags instead.

He quoted Shapiro, former head of Detroit?s Consumer Affairs office: ?For many people, (the price tag law) is the only interaction they ever have with consumer protection law. A very basic thing I always come back to is consumers? right to know...?

Sullivan said, with price stickers, ?consumers can be sure about the price of an item, and not be forced to hunt around for it... And they also have an audit trail; once they arrive home, they can compare goods with a price receipt to make sure they?re not overcharged.?

Sullivan said, ?In a world where prices are opaque, comparison shopping is dead. That means companies no longer compete to sell the best products and services for the best price; instead, they compete with each other over who can best confuse consumers and get more money from them.?

He said price tags became endangered species with scanable bar codes. Stores preferred automating checkout instead of paying somebody to put price stickers on items.

?They also like being able to change prices frequently, at the press of a button; frequent price changes are a hassle when price tags are involved,? he added.

But Sullivan said Shapiro and others like her saw things differently.

?Shoppers can?t remember the price of an item they?ve placed in their cart as they walk the aisles, she said. They can?t compare a jar of tomato sauce selected on aisle 7 with the price of a jar sitting at a special display at the front of the store. That means they also can?t verify the price of items as they are scanned at checkout,? he said.

Shapiro, according to Sullivan, had expressed the view that price tags were as important as rules on nutrition labeling. The end of price tags would also make it much harder for consumers to complain about being overcharged.

The deputy director of the Michigan Citizen Action, according to Sullivan, said price tags were important.

?Why should a consumer have to be the unpaid store clerk running around figuring out how much things cost?? said Erin Knott.

Shelf tags, it was found, failed on many levels. ?Items get moved, it?s hard to tell which tag applies to which item, and sometimes the tags are simply wrong,? Sullivan said. Shapiro also pointed out that children often had fun sliding labels back and forth.

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