A 34-year-old law that requires Westchester County stores to manually attach price tags to most items would get a major overhaul under a proposal by County Executive Andrew Spano.
Retailers that can demonstrate that computer scanning technology consistently gives consumers accurate prices at the checkout line would be eligible for a waiver from the county’s item pricing law under Spano’s proposal.
“Our item-pricing law was enacted in 1975 to ensure that consumers at the register were able to make sure they were being properly charged, “ Spano said in a written statement. “But with technological advances and the use of scanners it is time to look again at this law. My proposal would continue to protect consumers but at the same time reduce the costs to some businesses.”
Merchants have complained that a requirement for workers to manually price each item raises labor and operating costs for the stores, putting upward pressure on consumer prices. A 2004 study of supermarket chains in the Tri-State area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut found that prices at stores subject to item-pricing laws were about 25 cents higher, or 9.6 percent per item, than stores that didn’t face such requirements.
“We find that the item-pricing law costs are at least an order of magnitude higher than the benefits,” wrote Professor Mark Bergen of University of Minnesota, one of the study’s co-authors.
Westchester has enforced its item pricing law with fines against major retailers in recent years.
But many New York counties have already abandoned such policies.
Rockland, Nassau, Suffolk, Erie, Renssalear and St. Lawrence counties are among those with waivers similar to Spano’s proposal.
Spano’s legislation would allow a retailer to qualify for a waiver from the item pricing law annually if its checkout scanners are at least 98 percent accurate in field tests conducted by the county’s Department of Consumer Protection. There also are requirements for price check scanners to be readily available to consumers throughout the store, and for shelf labels to be displayed for all items. Stores also may be subject to unannounced price checks and inspections by the county.
“Our sense is that scanning technology has gotten so good that most stores will pass the test,” said Gary Brown, director of the county’s Department of Consumer Protection. “We think this is a win-win for consumers and businesses. The stores can use modern scanning technology to give consumers accurate price information…The stores can operate more efficiently and hopefully pass along the savings to consumers.”
Brown said that he expects that supermarkets, pharmacies, department stores, discount chains and other big retailers will be the most interested in seeking waivers from the item pricing law.
Spano will submit the changes to the county Board of Legislators.
“We would like to fast track this legislation,” Brown said. “The sooner (it’s enacted), the better for all concerned.”