In response to nationwide public concern about price accuracy in retail stores, the National Conference on Weights and Measures has established a Working Group on Price Verification. The aim of the group will be to develop a field handbook for officials to use in verifying the accuracy of advertised prices.
NCWM, an organization of more than 3,500 state, county and city weights and measures enforcement officials and associated business, federal and consumer representatives, receives technical support from the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology, a non-regulatory agency, through the institute's Office of Weights and Measures.
Recent national television and other news stories have accused both retailers and state and local weights and measures officials of failing to ensure that posted prices match advertised and "scanned" prices, and have called for tougher inspection standards. Many of these reports claimed there were gross margins of error in price accuracy.
According to Ken Butcher, OWM weights and measures coordinator, the large error rates can be attributed to the small number of packages tested in some of the surveys. He explains that when only 10 packages are tested in a store and one error is found, the 10-percent error rate can be misleading, especially when 30 to 200 packages are normally tested in other stores.
Butcher adds that more than half of the states report they do not have the resources, authority or recognized test procedures to ensure accurate prices.
To address this important issue, NCWM invited state and local weights and measures officials, representatives of all major retail and trade organizations, and retailers from all classes of trade to participate in an effort to develop uniform price accuracy test procedures. The working group is chaired by Barbara J. Bloch, assistant chief, Division of Measurement Standards, State of California.
The first meeting of the working group was attended by members of the Food Marketing Institute, National Retail Hardware Association, the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association and seven national supermarket companies. Weights and measures officials from Canada also attended, making this a cooperative international effort.
At the meeting, participants outlined several topics to be addressed, including classes of trade, inspection standards, model legislation and uniform standards for electronic shelf price labels. Foremost, the group agreed that all types of retail stores, including grocery, hardware, general merchandise, drug, automobile parts outlets, convenience, club and membership stores, should be inspected routinely and held to high standards for price accuracy.
The next meeting of the working group is scheduled for Nov. 3-4, 1993. Plans call for a final report to be ready for adoption by NCWM at the 79th Annual Meeting in San Diego, Calif., in July 1994.
For information, or to participate in the Working Group on Price Verification, contact Ken Butcher, Office of Weights and Measures, A617 Administration Building, NIST, Gaithersburg, Md. 20899-0001, (301) 975-3991, fax: (301) 926-0647.