As many as 61 stores in North Carolina paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for price-charging errors at checkout in the second quarter this year, according to state inspectors.
Nineteen Walmart stores, 27 Dollar General locations, six Family Dollar stores and two Target stores were fined. Additional retail stores fined included four Advance Auto Parts, as well as individual Pet Supplies Plus, Compare Foods and Petsmart locations.
Two of the Dollar General stores had to pay fines of $15,000 each. An initial inspection at a Charlotte location in November 2021 found a 24-percent error rate based on 12 overcharges in a 50-item lot. Subsequent inspections in December, February and April found 20.67-percent, 20-percent and 20-percent error rates, respectively. The store will be reinspected at an unconfirmed date.
And in October 2021 at a second location in Marshville, N.C., inspectors found a 20-percent error rate based on 10 overcharges in a 50-item lot. Subsequent inspections in November, February, March and April found 20.67-percent, 21-percent, and 12.33-percent percent error rates, respectively. The store passed inspection in June.
A Dollar General in Vass paid $14,745 in fines, while another location in Charlotte paid $13,745. Rounding out the top five fines is a Family Dollar in Goldsboro, N.C., which was penalized $13,305.
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Standards Division imposed and collected the fines. The division is a regulatory agency responsible for ensuring equity, safety and quality in the marketplaces of North Carolina for all consumers, manufacturers, and merchants, according to its mission statement.
“Our Standards Division continues to see a significant increase in stores with price scanner errors, as many stores continue to deal with staffing shortages. Overcharges cost consumers so we remain vigilant in inspecting stores in order to protect consumers,” state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said in a statement. “It is always a good practice for consumers to check their receipts as well as the price on the shelf to make sure that they are paying the correct amount and alert managers if they are not correct.”
The division’s Measurement Section is responsible for testing weighing and measuring devices for accuracy, determining the accuracy rate of price scanning systems, and checking packaged goods for compliance with their net contents statement.
The department conducts periodic, unannounced inspections of price-scanner systems in local businesses to check for accuracy between the prices advertised and what actually rings up at the register.
If a store has more than a 2-percent error rate on overcharges, inspectors discuss the findings with the store manager and later conduct a more intensive follow-up inspection. Undercharges are also reported, but do not count against a store.
Penalties are assessed if a store fails a follow-up inspection. In addition to the penalties paid, the store will be subject to re-inspection every 60 days from the last inspection until it meets the 2-percent-or-less error rate. Additional penalties may be assessed if a store fails a re-inspection.
The highest error rate was found at a Dollar General in Winnabow, N.C., which paid $3,840 in penalties. An initial inspection in April found a 78-percent error rate based on 39 overcharges in a 50-item lot, while a subsequent inspection in May found a 15.33-percent error rate.
And another Dollar General in Bunn, N.C., had a 54-percent error rate based on 27 overcharges in a 50-item lot in March, according to inspectors. A subsequent inspection in April found a 50.33-percent error rates. The store passed inspection in June, after paying $5,000 in fines.
As of Aug. 3, 34 stores will be reinspected. Stores are reinspected every 60 days until they meet the standard.
The fines were levied in 32 state counties, including Alamance, Brunswick, Carteret, Catawba, Columbus, Forsyth, Franklin, Granville, Guilford, Harnett, Iredell, Johnston, Jones, Mecklenburg, Moore, Nash, Orange, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Pender, Perquimans, Randolph, Rockingham, Rowan, Scotland, Stanly, Union, Vance, Wake, Watauga, Wayne and Yadkin.
The most recent round of fines wasn’t the first time stores in North Carolina have been caught overcharging customers. Seven stores were fined in the first quarter of 2022, including multiple Walmart and Dollar General locations. In total, 42 stores were fined earlier this year, according to state officials.
Dollar stores have faced major fines over the past month. In July, A Family Dollar store in Orlando, Fla. was fined $330,446 in penalties after the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) investigation into a fatal shoplifting incident uncovered “willful and repeat safety violations.” One week later, the DOL’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed penalties of $1.23 million on Dollar Tree for 300 safety violations identified since 2017. Through the more than 500 inspections, OSHA routinely found exit routes, fire extinguishers and electrical panels dangerously obstructed or blocked, unsafe walking and working surfaces, and unstable stacks of merchandise, the department said.
The developments come as some industry experts expects consumers hard hit by inflation to turn to dollar stores to make ends meet.
“We haven’t seen a lot of trade down yet,” Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos said earlier this year, but he expects “there’ll be more as inflation comes in.” The company picked up scores of new shoppers when the pandemic first hit many consumers’ finances.
“We know that based on the credit card data, and our marketing against that, a lot of these customers are in that trade down area that would happen when trade down occurs, so we’ve got some of them already and I believe will get even more as inflation continues to take hold across the U.S.,” Vasos said.