Michigan item pricing law may have changed but your consumer rights did not

Law regulating how retailers display the price they are charging for an item has changed, but if a consumer is overcharged for an item they are entitled to the difference between the amount charged plus the amount displayed and a "bonus" refund.

Until September 2011, Michigan had the strictest retail pricing law in the nation. It required individual price tags on virtually every item being sold in any retail establishment. The Michigan unit pricing law, in effect since 1978, was meant to protect consumers from being overcharged by automatic scanners in checkout lines. In March 2011, however, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill repealing the measure, and the repeal took effect Sept. 1, 2011. However, key consumer protections have remained in place with retailers paying steep penalties if they overcharge consumers.

The current Michigan state law requires that the price of most items in stores be displayed “by any method that clearly and reasonably conveys the price in the store at the place where the item is located.” If a consumer is charged more than the price displayed, the law gives them specific rights.

If an automatic checkout system, such as a scanner, charges more than the price displayed for an item, the buyer has 30 days to notify the seller. The buyer must have a receipt indicating the item and price of the purchased item. This may be done either in person or in writing. Within two days of receiving notice the seller must refund the difference between the amount charged and the price displayed plus a “bonus” of 10 times the difference. The bonus cannot be less than $1 or more than $5. If the consumer has purchased several identical items at once and was overcharged on each, they are entitled to the refund of the difference for each item but can only collect the bonus once.

If the seller refuses to give the consumer both the refund and the bonus, the consumer may bring a lawsuit to recover the actual damages or $250, whichever is greater, plus reasonable attorney fees up to $300. The complaint can be filed in a Small Claims Court without an attorney. In that case the attorney fees would not be applicable.

Michigan’s Attorney General Bill Schuette encourages consumers who have questions about their rights or that have been a victim of a scanner pricing error to report it to the Michigan Consumer Protection Division of his office.

Complaints regarding a store’s failure to properly display the price of consumer items offered for sale should be directed to the Department of Agriculture & Rural Development, Weights & Measures Section.

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