Monday, 13 February 2017

Shaming Saint Michael

Christopher Draper goes shopping…
by Chris Draper

ONCE upon a time I had a holiday job working in a Nottingham supermarket.  I fondly remember one particular day I did nothing but stick individual adhesive price labels on hundreds of boxes of Cornflakes. Nowadays shops programme prices into a computerised system that ultimately prints out individual bill-receipt at the till.  This Universal Product Coding (UPC) places a legal obligation on shops to ensure that the prices displayed on shelves are identical to those applied at the till.  As price alterations are almost invariably upwards staff must assiduously replace old shelf prices otherwise all customers at that store are systematically overcharged.  Overcharging continues until a customer finally notices and insists on rectification.  When items were individually priced it was simple to see if the price displayed on the till conformed with that on the item but UPC makes it much easier for shops to get away with overcharging and of course its in their financial interest to do so and my local, Llandudno, Marks & Spencer food department is a serial offender.

Over the last year I have been overcharged in this way on at least ten occasions, most recently yesterday (8.2.2017) and on the previous occasion just two weeks ago.  I also shop locally at ASDA and ALDI, the latter never overcharge and the former very, very seldom but Llandudno Marks & Spencer with deplorable regularity.  Even if you spot an overcharge you are required to go to another part of the store to a “Customer Service Counter” this is usually unmanned and you’re expected to wait until a passing assistant stops to help.  Usually I have to find someone myself to complain to.  Then you are required to empty out your shopping until the overcharged item(s) are located.  The assistant will then disappear to find the appropriate shelf price label before belatedly returning to admit that you have indeed been overcharged.  Then the overcharge will be dismissed as an isolated incident.  You are meant to feel grateful when you eventually get back the amount you were overcharged however if you paid by card then you are first required to produce it so the sum can be credited back on your account.  All the trouble and inconvenience is suffered by the customer whilst all illicit profit accrues to Marks & Spencer who, of course, have no system in place to recompense all those shoppers who previously paid the inflated price.

On every occasion I notice an overcharge I endure this tiresome ritual.  I’ve informed M&S HQ of this practice and on each occasion, always ask to speak a manager. I’ve also requested a “customer comment book” to formally record these incidents but I’ve been told none exists and each time I’m presented with a different “acting store manager”.  Invariably they claim ignorance and insist the store does not consciously overcharge but the regularity of such incidents evidences culpability. Utterly exasperated after the previous (January 2017) overcharge I left my contact details with “Craig” and requested that the store manager offer me an explanation of this continued discreditable performance.  The manager did not have the courtesy to reply. 

I could of course confine my shopping to Asda and Aldi but I’m now determined to challenge M&S overcharging.  Sometimes the store makes a gesture to deflect criticism (on the last occasion a bottle of wine) but this is not general practice.  I have now informed “Trading Standards” of this lamentable story but in truth UK law is predictably lax although both Tesco and Sainsburys have in the past been fined for overcharging.  In Connecticut customers overcharged are legally obliged to be given the item free not merely a refund of the excess charge.  Overcharging then costs the stores money whereas, perversely, M&S Llandudno profits by not giving this matter due care and attention.

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