Discount stores failing price inspections: Could low staffing be to blame?

Local dollar stores in Montgomery County have failed pricing inspections at an unprecedented rate, county auditor records show, and officials say the lack of store employees might be a reason why.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office filed lawsuits against Dollar General and Family Dollar recently alleging that the stores marked one price on shelves but were charging higher prices at the register.

Montgomery County Auditor’s Office records show over the last several weeks, 32 local stores from those two chains failed price inspections. These stores are among 43 retailers of all kinds in the county that failed price checks among the 382 tests auditors office inspectors conducted this year.

Auditor’s office records show that 55 retailers failed inspections in the five years combined from 2017 through 2021.

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“We’ve had more stores fail inspections over the past three weeks than failed in any of the last five years,” Montgomery County auditor spokesman Mike Brill said. “The overcharging we’ve seen recently is a new issue.”

Reports show inspectors recently finding items like whole milk being priced at $3.85 on the shelf but being scanned for $4.05, and a step stool being sold at a dollar more than the advertised price.

Brill said stores should honor the listed price, and if they don’t then customers should report that to the auditor’s office.

‘It should be the same’

Interviewed outside a local Dollar General, customer Jim Brooks said he buys soda from there and doesn’t believe having different prices on the shelf and the register is right.

“It should be priced the correct price,” Brooks said. “It should be the same when you take it off the shelf and take it up front to scan it.”

Messages sent to Dollar General were not returned. Family Dollar released a statement to the Dayton Daily News.

“At Family Dollar, we are dedicated to serving the needs of our shoppers and providing them with great values on the products they need and want. We are committed to operational compliance with all applicable federal, state and local laws,” the company’s statement says.

At least half the items tested did not match the listed price at Dollar General stores at 2228 N. Gettysburg Ave. and 2312 N. Main St. in Dayton.

The 36% failure rate at the Family Dollar at 745 Troy St. was the highest among local stores in that chain. There, inspectors found a gas can listed for $16 scanned for $18 and a Pantene product listed at $5.45 but scanned for $6.65. Inspectors also found candy, soda, bleach and aluminum foil, among other items, were also mismarked.

The establishment is among area dollar stores that failed its pricing inspection and will need increased inspection frequency, the report says.

Inspections

Inspectors who are going into the stores and checking the prices often see few staff members, said Joseph Harris, the chief inspector of weights and measures for the Montgomery County Auditor’s Office.

“There are anywhere between two to three employees and those employees are in charge of taking care of ringing out every customer as well as putting out inventory from the back as well as changing out shelves and changing out prices,” he said. “So the situation that we’re seeing is kind of a lack of staffing. But that doesn’t justify the fact that prices are ringing up incorrectly for customers.”

The Dayton Daily News accompanied the auditor’s office to a recent check at the Dollar General store on South Dixie Drive in Kettering. The store manager didn’t allow the newspaper to watch the process in the store, but the inspectors were observed waiting in line and informing the manager of the inspection and their need for a scanner.

Harris said inspectors take the scan gun and scan randomly selected items to make sure that the price on the shelf matches the price on the scanner. The inspectors usually scan between 50 to 200 items depending on the size of the store, he said, and at least 98% of the items scanned must be correct to pass the inspection.

When the inspectors went to the Kettering store to check prices on Nov. 4, the store failed. According to the price verification detail report, the scanned price for a mop was $1 more than the shelf price, foam cups were 60 cents more, laundry detergent and paper plates were scanned 50 cents higher than the shelf price and brownie mix and dog treats were scanned at 20 cents more than the listed price.

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When the inspectors returned on Nov. 22 for a re-check, the store passed with no errors, records show.

The auditor’s office checks prices every year at all sorts of retailers, Harris said, as well as checks gas pumps and scales at grocery stores throughout the county.

“We’re just here for fair equity in the marketplace,” Harris said. “We’re here to help out the retailer and we’re here to help out the customer.”

State lawsuit

Greene County Auditor David Graham said his office has received complaints about local dollar store pricing but has conducted a handful of checks and each store has passed. He encouraged shoppers to pay attention when they are purchasing items and hold the store accountable if there is a discrepancy.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost this month announced lawsuits against Tennessee-based Dollar General and Virginia-based Family Dollar for allegedly charging customers differently than the listed price. Yost says his office received complaints about pricing issues in multiple Ohio counties.

Yost’s office said that these stores often serve low- and lower-middle-income neighborhoods.

“We’re looking not just for reimbursement, but we want a court order to make them stop doing this and to put adequate controls in place so that the price you see on the shelf is the price that they charge at the register,” Yost said. “I’m optimistic that we’ve got a good case and we’re going to get justice.”

The lawsuits were filed in Butler County Common Pleas Court.


Montgomery County Price Checks:

The Montgomery County Auditor’s Office inspects retailers to make sure shelf pricing matches the price at the register. Below is the summary of these inspections back through 2017.

2022- 382 stores inspected, 43 failed*

2021- 357 stores inspected, 8 failed

2020- 132 stores inspected, 4 failed

2019- 391 stores inspected, 30 failed

2018- 374 stores inspected, 8 failed

2017- 313 stores inspected, 5 failed

* Through Nov. 23, 2022

Source: Montgomery County Auditor’s Office

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