|Bar codes must be monitored for accuracy
||[Jul. 5th, 2006|07:51 am]
Columbus Real Estate
Bar codes must be monitored for accuracy
Thursday, June 8, 2006
Does June 26, 1974, mean anything to you?
Well, at about 8 a.m. that day, (cue the trumpet) retail transactions were forever changed when a package of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit gum was the first product sold using a Universal Product Code (UPC) and a scanner at a grocery store checkout in Troy, Ohio.
The introduction of the UPC and the price scanner was so important, that the first transaction is commemorated by a display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
For those of you old enough to remember prior to that, all pricing was done manually. As a teenager working in a grocery store, I remember stamping each can, box or package with an ink-stamping device that would change numbers at will and get ink all over me.
It has been estimated that the bar code saves $17-billion annually in inventory costs. They are fast, accurate and improve efficiency for both the store and the consumer.
The concern, though, is that when the stamp number changed we might have a price error on one or a few items. If a keying error is made when a new price is entered into the computer, perhaps hundreds of items in computers networked together are affected.
The Uniform Code Council estimates that as many as 10-billion bar codes are scanned worldwide every day.
Those bar codes are on much more than the grocery items originally envisioned more than 30 years ago. For example, the Army uses two-foot long bar codes to label boats in storage at West Point -- and you thought only the Navy and Coast Guard had boats.
Tiny bar codes have even been mounted to the backs of honeybees to track their flight patterns to help beekeepers improve productivity and profitability. The bar code is about 1/20th of the weight of the pollen a bee carries.
How would you like to have the job of applying those? A laser scanner mounted over the entrance to the beehive records the bees' activities.
When the UPC bar code was introduced, some felt that it would confuse consumers because individual items would not be labeled with a price.
And that's where the County Auditor's Office comes in. You're probably aware that each of Ohio's 88 county auditors has a Weights and Measures section working to protect consumers and merchants alike. A few cities in Ohio do too, including Columbus.
We check gas pumps to be sure a gallon is really a gallon, and we verify that scales used in commercial transactions are accurate. We conduct "package checks" to make certain you're only paying for the product inside and not the container.
And we also check the accuracy of the UPC price scanners at your local stores. A large supermarket, for example, may have 50,000 or more items in stock, and a shelf tag or sign may be placed for each of those items. With weekly sales, hundreds or even thousands of items may have price changes. Unless you can remember the advertised price of every item in the basket -- and I'm sure that some shoppers can -- it's difficult to know if every item matches. Although people should check the register receipt, I doubt that many do so.
In 2005, Franklin County Weights and Measures inspectors' results showed that about 1.2-percent of the items had a scanned price that differed from the shelf price. Of the items that scanned incorrectly, about 42-percent were undercharges in the customers' favor.
So what can you do to be certain you're being charged the correct price?
Do your best to watch the price display at the register, particularly sale items or specials which have changed prices lately. Ask the clerk to verify the price if you think it was scanned in error. If the scanned price does not agree with the posted price, ask the manager to correct it. They generally will.
Some stores have fairly generous price check policies. And save your cash register receipt in case you have a problem later on.
If you can't see the weights and measures decal at the checkout counter or if the store doesn't remedy the pricing problem, give us a call at 462-7380 or visit our Web site at www.franklincountyauditor.com and register a complaint.
We will check it out.
Nobody wants to go back to hand stamping. Certainly not I