What to do when the price on the shelf is different to what they’re charging at the till



When the price you’re asked to pay for an item is different to that on the shelf, most consumers will prefer to pay the lower price.

Urban legend has it that someone once paid R1,99 for a television set when it was marked at this price, although the actual price on the shelve was R1 990. Was this correct?

Pricing error complaints are commonplace and have become more prevalent, especially with the advent of online shopping according to the Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman. Most of the complaints the office receives are about prices that differ from the displayed price, not the same as advertised or simply misleading.

Many consumers and shop employees still do not know what your rights as a consumer are when the price on the product is wrong. They argue that you should get the product for free if the price at the till is higher than the price on the shelf. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.

Three sections of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) make provision for what to do if the price is wrong and what your rights are.

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Disclosing the price

Section 23 deals with price disclosure and provides that retailers are not forced to display a price on goods used as a form of advertisement for the supplier of goods on the suppliers’ premises where the public does not ordinarily have access.

However, a retailer is not allowed to present goods without indicating what the price is. Prices have to be indicated in rands and cents in writing and can be stuck on or fastened to the product. It can be written, printed or stamped or be affixed with a band, ticket, cover, label, packaging, roll or shelf.

You, as the consumer, must be reasonably able to infer that the price is applicable to the goods. A catalogue, brochure, circular or similar publication offering products or services must indicate until when the price will be valid and it must be dated so that you can see if it is a current price.

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When there is more than one price

A retailer is not allowed to expect you to pay a price that is higher than the price indicated, or that is higher than the lowest price if a few prices are indicated.

This means that if you get to the cashier and the price is higher than the one on the shelf, you can insist to pay the lower price, but within reason. You cannot insist on paying R1,99 for a television set which is obviously an error because nobody sells it for such a lower price.

Therefore, when the price is obviously a mistake, the retailer is not bound by it, but only if the mistake is corrected and the shop took reasonable steps to inform you that the price was wrong.

Retailers are also not bound by a price displayed in relationship to any goods if an unauthorised person altered, defaced, covered, removed or obscured the price.

However, this section does not apply to goods where the price is determined by public regulation, such as the petrol price.

When a price sticker is stuck over another one, the price on the top sticker is regarded as the correct one.

Advertised prices

When a shop advertises prices that are lower than normal, the price must be the usual price minus a discount that must be indicated in rands and cents or by percentage, unless a new, lower price is put on the item and then the difference between the highest and lowest price must be equal to the advertised price drop.

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When this does not apply

Section 23 does not apply when someone has already given you a quote or you indicated that you do not want one. This article also does not apply to transactions that fall under section 43 of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act.

No misleading allowed

Part of section 29 does not allow anyone to market goods or services in a way that is misleading, fraudulent or deceptive about the price at which the goods can be supplied or compare it to another shop’s price.

This means that a retailer is not allowed to advertise something as ‘the cheapest in the country’ if that is not the case.

Beware of bait marketing

Section 30 deals with bait marketing and stipulates that suppliers are not allowed to advertise any goods or services as available at a specified price in a way that could mislead or deceive consumers in any way about the actual availability of the goods or services at that advertised price.

Ever heard of people complaining that they went to a shop and that all the goods on special were sold out? Unless the advertisement expressly states a limit for how much stock is available at that price, he is not allowed to do it. However, it could be difficult to prove that the supplier advertised stock he did not have.

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Tips to keep in mind:

  • Prices must be indicated clearly on all goods or shelves beneath the product.
  • You always pay the lowest price when the cashier price is higher than the price on the shelf.
  • If there is by mistake no price on an item, the shop must do enough to ensure you know what the price is before you pay.
  • Prices must be indicated in a way that you can immediately see how much you will pay for something.
  • Prices must include VAT and delivery.
  • If something is only available at a special low price for a certain period of time, it must be clearly indicated.