When Machines Overcharge, It’s News. Human Clerks? Not So Much

Written by Frank Hayes
November 4th, 2010

Getting in-store customers to use self-checkout is hard enough, with many customers worried about scanners that might mis-scan, bill acceptors that might swallow their cash and clerks who won’t be there when needed. But a customer at one New Zealand grocery store can stop worrying—he knows he’s been overcharged at the self-checkout, where products that are advertised on store shelves as being on sale ring up at full price.

Yes, it’s just as illegal in New Zealand to display one price on the shelf and charge a higher price when it’s time to check out. And it’s the machines that customers will blame for the foul up—even if it turns out they’re overcharged the same way at the regular checkout counters.

According to a news story in the Manawatu Standard newspaper on Tuesday (Nov. 2), customer Bernie Walker said he has been regularly overcharged by the self-checkout machines—for example, being charged the full price of $4.98 for a bag of Granny Smith apples that’s advertised as being on sale for $3.98.

“The staff have actually told me they know about it, and that people will just have to ask them to correct it, if they happen to notice it when they check out their goods,” Walker told the newspaper. “The staff have been only too happy to reimburse me, but what I get so angry about is that it seems to happen every time.” And he had only been overcharged at the store’s self-checkout counter, Walker said.

But two days later, the newspaper reported that other customers had the same complaint—except they were regularly overcharged at the staffed checkout counters.

One man, Lawrence Bell, said he was overcharged so regularly that the checkout clerks knew to wait until he had checked over his receipts before starting on the next customer. His most recent overcharge: $27.82.

But Bell didn’t go to the newspaper (literally, he took his receipts to the newspaper offices) until after he saw the report about the self-checkout overcharging. Neither he nor other overcharged customers thought it was a big deal when they were charged too much—except when it happened during self checkout.

That’s not a coincidence. Customers know the regular checkout counter. When something goes wrong, they figure that machines fail but the cashier will make it right, so they take it in stride. But when the unfamiliar self-checkout machine fails, that’s news.

It may be an unfair bias against technology, but it’s one every retailer that wants to depend on self-checkout, automated tunnel scanners and other newfangled gadgetry has to deal with: The machines have to get it right if you want any chance of getting customers to use them.


2 Comments | Read When Machines Overcharge, It’s News. Human Clerks? Not So Much

  1. Ron Ziff Says:

    Wrong price in the computer file? It’s a common problem and easy to solve. The real test is in how you handle it. Many retailers use a verification process. One major home improvement retailer has a company policy of fixing it only after the customer complains. The fact that it is cemented into policy and employees are well aware of it boggles the mind.

  2. John E Says:

    This is why I refuse to shop at a new Walgreens by us. Both time I went there I was overcharged for the items I purchased. Other people I talked had also been overcharged. The cashier corrected it but only after going to the isle and verifying the correct price. I don’t have the patience to wait for the cashier to verify pricing on every item I purchase.


StorefrontBacktalk delivers the latest retail technology news & analysis. Join more than 60,000 retail IT leaders who subscribe to our free weekly email. Sign up today!

Most Recent Comments

Why Did Gonzales Hackers Like European Cards So Much Better?

I am still unclear about the core point here-- why higher value of European cards. Supply and demand, yes, makes sense. But the fact that the cards were chip and pin (EMV) should make them less valuable because that demonstrably reduces the ability to use them fraudulently. Did the author mean that the chip and pin cards could be used in a country where EMV is not implemented--the US--and this mis-match make it easier to us them since the issuing banks may not have as robust anti-fraud controls as non-EMV banks because they assumed EMV would do the fraud prevention for them Read more...
Two possible reasons that I can think of and have seen in the past - 1) Cards issued by European banks when used online cross border don't usually support AVS checks. So, when a European card is used with a billing address that's in the US, an ecom merchant wouldn't necessarily know that the shipping zip code doesn't match the billing code. 2) Also, in offline chip countries the card determines whether or not a transaction is approved, not the issuer. In my experience, European issuers haven't developed the same checks on authorization requests as US issuers. So, these cards might be more valuable because they are more likely to get approved. Read more...
A smart card slot in terminals doesn't mean there is a reader or that the reader is activated. Then, activated reader or not, the U.S. processors don't have apps certified or ready to load into those terminals to accept and process smart card transactions just yet. Don't get your card(t) before the terminal (horse). Read more...
The marketplace does speak. More fraud capacity translates to higher value for the stolen data. Because nearly 100% of all US transactions are authorized online in real time, we have less fraud regardless of whether the card is Magstripe only or chip and PIn. Hence, $10 prices for US cards vs $25 for the European counterparts. Read more...
@David True. The European cards have both an EMV chip AND a mag stripe. Europeans may generally use the chip for their transactions, but the insecure stripe remains vulnerable to skimming, whether it be from a false front on an ATM or a dishonest waiter with a handheld skimmer. If their stripe is skimmed, the track data can still be cloned and used fraudulently in the United States. If European banks only detect fraud from 9-5 GMT, that might explain why American criminals prefer them over American bank issued cards, who have fraud detection in place 24x7. Read more...

Our apologies. Due to legal and security copyright issues, we can't facilitate the printing of Premium Content. If you absolutely need a hard copy, please contact customer service.