Legislation that would repeal the state’s Consumer Item Pricing Act has cleared the state House and is now being considering in the Senate. The proposal is being lauded by retailers, who say it will enable them to use new technology to better communicate prices to consumers and save the state more than $2 billion in retail costs. Opponents lament the potential demise of a critical consumer protection law that has served the public for over three decades. Sure, consumers would get by without the existing law — Michigan is among just three states that require a price to be affixed to almost all retail items — but we question the purported cost of required item pricing and it’s impact on the state’s economic woes, which makes us hesitate to endorse the legislation.
House Bill (HB) 4158 would replace the current law with the proposed Shopping Reform and Modernization Act, which would contain current provisions, with some revisions, such as the definition of “displayed.”
Under the bill, a price would be “displayed” if it were stamped, affixed, or otherwise marked on the item; or displayed by signage, an electronic reader, or any other method that clearly and reasonably conveyed the item’s current price where the item was located.
Gov. Rick Snyder identified the current law as a contributing factor in the state’s struggling economy and called for its repeal during his recent State of the State address.
According to a study commissioned by Michigan retailers, the current item pricing law adds $2.2 billion to retail costs in the state without any tangible benefit. That assertion comes from the interpretation of data from a price study conducted in 2006 in New York and New Jersey.
We’re betting the bill would save retailers some money, but we can’t fathom how the current law adds over $2 billion to retail costs. A person will always have to stock shelves and racks, and it only takes a few seconds to price a case of soup, for example, during the stocking process. All the pricing guns and stickers in the state and the few seconds it takes a stocker to use them can’t possibly add up to more than $2 billion.
In addition, if retailers are so bent on improving the retail experience through new and exciting, consumer-focused technology — which industry representatives say they are — there’s nothing stopping them from implementing it. It’s been suggested that price tags be replaced with scanners attached to shopping carts so consumers can check an item’s price. How that investment, and the cost of maintaining and powering the scanners is less than using a simple pricing gun and stickers is beyond us.
And for those who can’t figure out how the current law benefits the public, here’s a clue: When a questionable price pops up following a scan at the checkout, the consumer and/or the store clerk can check the item’s price tag. That helps prevent consumers from being clipped for more than what an item is supposed to cost. Individual item pricing also easily facilitates price comparison. There — mystery solved.