A majority of Canadians have found mistakes on their grocery receipts when they’ve checked in the past year, according to a new survey that suggests some shoppers are leaving savings behind while food inflation rages.
The latest report from the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University released Tuesday shows that 67 per cent of Canadians have found a mistake on their grocery store bill at least once over the past year.
“A lot of people just don’t look at grocery receipts. … They may actually be leaving money behind,” Sylvain Charlebois, the lab’s director, told Global News.
The most common flub found when checking for mistakes, according to the more than 5,500 Canadians surveyed by Caddle for the report in March, was the final price on the receipt differing from the one on the shelf, with 78.5 per cent of respondents saying they noticed this error.
Charlebois says the lab wanted to tackle receipt errors because he believes it’s a topic that’s “often overlooked.”
Nearly half of those surveyed for the report (49.5 per cent) said they always check their grocery receipts for errors.
Charlebois says that shoppers often rush home after checking out, because they might be short on time or be shopping with children in tow.
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But not taking a close look at the receipt — or forgoing taking one entirely — means a shopper is basically “forfeiting” the chance to find mistakes, he says.
“The average consumer can save up to $50, $60, $70 a year just by looking at receipts and potential mistakes.”
Where are issues happening?
New Brunswickers and Manitobans were least likely to find errors on their bills, finding mistakes 61 per cent of the time. Newfoundland and Labrador residents meanwhile posted the highest reported error rate at 84 per cent.
The report didn’t specify at which grocery chains consumers saw the most mistakes.
Charlebois says it’s common for coding errors to happen amid the often hectic environment at a grocery store, with thousands of items to inventory and regular fluctuations and sales to consider.
One of the most frequent areas where consumers reported issues was on daily discounts not being applied on perishables like bakery goods or meat — the “take home tonight” deals that regularly see significant price cuts applied.
“If you’re walking around the grocery store looking for bargains, it may just be an illusion if you’re not checking your receipt as you exit the store,” Charlebois says.
“It gets confusing out there. To actually pause after you pay for your food, look at your receipt, can actually allow you to save and make sure that you’re paying for what you’re actually getting.”
Some 9.2 per cent of survey respondents identified taxing errors as an issue, and Charlebois says he believes that so-called shrinkflation — where the price of a good holds steady but the amount a producer packages is reduced — is having an impact here.
When a grocery item drops below a certain threshold, it can be taxed as a “snack,” he says, adding he thinks the 9.2 per cent of improperly taxed items is an underestimate.
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The report found that some 84 per cent of shoppers who find an error on their receipt end up complaining about that mistake.
Among those who haven’t complained, almost 40 per cent said they didn’t feel it would be worth the money, while 31 per cent said they didn’t have the time.
After bringing it back to the cashier or a store’s customer service desk, 87.1 per cent of customers said they were satisfied with how grocers responded.
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In Canada, most grocers actually subscribe to a code that dictates how they respond in such circumstances.
The Retail Council of Canada and the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers instituted a scanner code of conduct in 2002. These rules dictate that when a scanning error is found on a receipt, the participating grocer must offer a $10 discount, or give the item for free if it costs less than that amount.
Among the voluntary signatories to the code are Loblaw, Metro, Sobeys, Walmart, Costco and Canadian Tire, and in Quebec, it’s the law.
Canadian grocers such as Loblaw have made great pains to stress how tight their profit margins are on food sales. Loblaw CEO Galen Weston Jr. repeated multiple times during his testimony to members of Parliament earlier this month that the grocer only makes $1 of profit per $25 spent at its stores.
Given how tight these margins are, Charlebois says grocers should want Canadians to report technical or customer service issues in their stores to identify the problem and stem the bleeding before it starts to affect their profitability.
“Grocers actually want to hear from consumers, I think, because they don’t want to repeat the same mistake over and over again,” he said. “If they end up actually giving hundreds of products for free with very low margins, it ends up costing them.”
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