Safeway Under Scrutiny For Overcharging Customers

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A receipt from a Safeway supermarket in Burlingame. (CBS)

A receipt from a Safeway supermarket in Burlingame. (CBS)

BURLINGAME (CBS SF) – Safeway may be facing civil charges for overcharging its customers at one of its Peninsula supermarkets.

Following a ConsumerWatch investigation, the Department of Weights and Measures confirmed the Safeway store in Burlingame was overcharging for some items.

It has happened several times to Safeway shopper Julie Muller. “After the first four times I thought, ‘OK it was just a mistake,’” said Muller. She wanted to give the Burlingame Safeway the benefit of the doubt after she was repeatedly overcharged for everything from peaches to pretzels. But then she realized it was a common problem.

“My sister shops here, she had the same problem and a friend of hers had the same problem,” said Muller. ConsumerWatch joined Muller on a recent trip to Safeway and was overcharged for one of the very same items Muller complained to management about three times.

Pleasanton-based Safeway, which operates Vons and Pavilions in Southern California, has previously been sanctioned by the District Attorney for overages state-wide.

As a result, if a customer is overcharged at any of their stores, in most cases they’re supposed to get the item for free. There are exceptions for dairy products, alcoholic beverages, tobacco, pharmacy products and fuel. Overcharges on those items should result in the lowest advertised price, plus a five-dollar gift card. In every Safeway checkout lane there should be a sign posted stating their price guarantee.

Fred Crowder of the Department of Weights and Measures said Muller’s Safeway is not the only one charging more than the advertised price. “Oh yeah, overcharges are not uncommon,” said Crowder. Overcharges cost consumers billions of dollars every year.

The Department of Weights and Measures finds both over and undercharges at various retailers across the state, most of which go unnoticed because most people do not bother to check their receipts. “Some go and ask for the money back, but some are, like, ‘I have kids, I have to get out of here,’” said Muller.

“If you don’t have time to care about the price you’re being charged at the store than that’s just perpetuating the problem,” said Crowder. Consumers should always check their receipts and contact Weights and Measures if they find a discrepancy.

The day after ConsumerWatch contacted Weights and Measures, investigators went to Safeway and found three different price errors.

According to Safeway, “Two (of those) were human errors and the third was priced incorrectly. The employee who made the errors has (now) been re-trained.” Safeway calls them isolated incidents. (Safeway’s full response is below.)

Muller said each time she complained she was given a refund, but Safeway should do more to prevent overages from happening in the first place. “I just don’t think it’s fair,” said Muller.

The Department of Weights and Measures has served Safeway with a notice of violation and they will most likely face further civil penalties.

If you are overcharged at any Safeway, Vons or Pavilions, ConsumerWatch wants to know. Send an email to consumerwatch@cbssf.com .

Safeway’s Full Response: Weights and Measures inspected our Burlingame store on September 14, 2012. The agency checked fifty items and three items rang as errors or overcharges. Two were human errors and the third was priced incorrectly. The employee who made the errors has been re-trained. Regarding the Yogurt Covered Pretzels, the store found the discrepancy was due to a misplaced price tag. We have taken corrective action with that item. These isolated incidents were addressed as soon as they were brought to our attention. We are committed to price accuracy. Our price guarantee, which is clearly and visibly posted at each of our check stands, is attached to this message.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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