You’ve clipped coupons, scoured the ads, planned a menu and even written a shopping list. The groceries are now loaded in your cart and you’re standing in the checkout line ready to see your hard work pay off with great savings. Whew, you congratulate yourself — a job well done, it’s time to relax and let the checker and bagger take over. No, don’t do it — danger lurks ahead. It’s time for you to be totally alert — eyes and ears wide open.
We’ve all read articles about how accurate the Universal Product Code (UPC) scanners are at the checkout. We also know that, according to research, grocers have far fewer scanner errors than other retailers. And, of course, we know that the Federal Trade Commission has been watching and evaluating scanner accuracy for years and reports that there are errors in only about 3.35 percent of purchases — and most of those favor the consumer. Since we all know all this stuff, how come we keep catching errors and being overcharged at the checkout? How come? Because although the scanners may be very accurate, no one can calculate the cost of human error.
A few months back, Steve was checking out with a cart full of price-matched items at Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, he happened to select a checkout lane with a newer cashier — an older lady who was not very experienced at the key sequence for price-matched items. After numerous tries and calls to the front-end manager, she totaled the bill for Steve. He felt frustrated knowing that he was being overcharged, but figured it would be easier to resolve it at the Customer Service counter than with this particular checker. He’d been charged $74 for $50-worth of groceries. In the end, the whole order had to be rescanned by a manager.
Here are six ways to keep your hard-won savings from going back to the retailer:
Group it Group your items on the checkout conveyer belt by type and by item. If you have several boxes of crackers, put them together. Do the same with your dairy products, your produce and any other similar items. When you go to review your receipt, they will show up in the same groups, making it easier to check for correct quantities and to look for errors or overcharges.
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Only two things are infinite,
the universe and human stupidity (error),
and I’m not sure about the former.
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Watch it Watch the display as the cashier scans each item. You need to make sure you’re getting the price you expected. If you can, ask the cashier to wait until you load all of your items onto the conveyer belt before she starts to scan them. Many stores offer a scanner accuracy guarantee — if an item scans different from the price on the shelf, you’ll receive that item for free (usually limited to one item even if you are buying multiples). It pays to ask.
Beep it Keep your ears attuned to the beep of the scanner. Why? Because today’s scanners are so powerful that with a simple miscue of the wrist, an item can be rung up two or three times. When we buy multiples of items — like 10 or 20 boxes of macaroni and cheese — the checker has to punch in the multiple — either by typing in a number or hitting the enter button the specific number of times. Listen, count and watch carefully here, too — mess-ups are common. Often, after counting the multiples into the total, a cashier who carelessly lifts the rest of the items over the scanner may scan them by mistake.
Coupon it We don’t always use coupons, but when we do, it’s usually a good-sized pile of 20 or more. Most stores in our area double coupons, so it’s critical to keep an eye and ear open here, too, as the coupons are scanned and the checker hits the “double” button. If you have purchased larger quantities of items on which you are using coupons, some stores set limits in the computer’s programming and won’t allow all coupons to be counted. Listen for the little “baarp” sound, indicating the coupon has been rejected. Most times the cashier or manager has to manually override the system. Save Money. Search, Find and Print Free Coupons Here Anytime (coupons.com).
Bag it We bring our own doubled paper bags — it’s a time-saving thing. Plus we really dislike those little plastic bags that hold only two or three items, cut into your hands when you lift them up and dispense their contents all over your car when you make a right turn. Anyway, bagging your own groceries usually requires that you have a second person with you — it’s physically impossible to bag groceries, watch the checker, listen to beeps and watch the computer display at the same time — even a supermom would have trouble with this task. But the key here is to bag items in groups. You’re less likely to spend time when you get home wondering where that fifth box of detergent went. We group similar items together: all frozen stuff, all produce, etc. And we never, ever put the bananas or bread under a watermelon!
Rescan it After you’ve paid for your groceries and the cart is loaded, take about three steps and turn to visually scan the area. Check the loading area where your groceries come off of the conveyer waiting to be bagged. Check the floor just in case the courtesy clerk put a bag down there, and check the bottom of your cart. And check the area where you set your purse or wallet while writing your check, dispensing cash or swiping your debit card. Leaving keys, your wallet or any of the groceries you’ve purchased costs you time. And while you’re scanning things, scan your receipt for accuracy. Even with a diligent eye during the checkout process, you might find an error.
Daydreaming at the end of a shopping trip can cost you dearly. So stay focused and don’t check out at the checkout. On our once-a-month shopping nights, one of our favorite things to do is to “check out” over a small cup of ice cream or some other treat we have a hankering for … at the kitchen table, after we’ve put away the perishable groceries.