Will price tags be a thing of the past in Michigan?

Jan 20, 2011

Price tags? We don't need no stinkin' price tags.

In his State of the State address last night, Governor Rick Snyder said the legislature should get rid of or modify "antiquated laws."

One law he used as an example was the state's "Item Pricing Law." The law, he said, is an undue burden on retailers. From Snyder's State of the State outline:

"Requiring 'stickers' over other forms of price-marking costs Michigan’s economy over $2 billion dollars a year. Let’s use the technology we have to protect customers."

Michigan Radio news intern, Sarah Alvarez, filed a report on the state's Item Pricing Law.

Keep the Item Pricing Law

She spoke with Chris Michalakis, the Legislative and Political Director with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. He said the law is necessary so shoppers can compare prices or catch errors at the checkout:

"You know, in these hard economic times we need stronger consumer protection laws. There are more people than ever in Michigan on fixed incomes, and we also need to think about the amount of jobs this would cost if passed."

The Michigan Attorney General has a "frequently asked questions" page for the pricing law outlining the "Item Pricing Bill of Rights."

It says that if an automatic checkout scanner charges you more than the marked price of an item, you can get the difference of the price back, plus a bonus of $1 to $5.

To the chagrin of some retailers, some shoppers hunt for those mislabeled items to make an extra buck, so repealing the law might impact those entrepreneurial shoppers.

There's also the worry that changing the law could cut the number of stock workers required at retailers around the state.

Alvarez reports "there was a similar effort in the state to change the Item Pricing Law five years ago. It failed because of the concern over jobs."

Get rid of the Item Pricing Law

Alvarez reports that the Governor's office says the law is expensive for retailers (they have to manually label all those products) and consumers (they have to pay the extra costs of all that labeling).

Alvarez spoke with Jennifer Holton with the Michigan Department of Agriculture. The Department of Ag. enforces the law. Holton said that few consumers lodge complaints under the law:

"In fiscal year 2010, we responded to 97 item pricing complaints, and on average, each item pricing complaint takes about four and a half hours to respond to."

As mentioned above, Snyder says the law costs the economy over $2 billion and that there are new technologies that can be used to protect the consumers.

So has anyone benefited from discovering a mislabeled item?  Would you say price tags on each individual item at the store are worth the costs? Or is it better to allow stores to streamline their processes? And what might that look like? Are we just talking bar code scanners? Or something more?