A law called the Consumer Protection Act says that Quebec merchants must follow several rules when they post the price of products they offer consumers.
First, they must follow rules on labelling products and posting prices. This means that they must post the price of all the products they offer consumers.
They must also follow rules on price accuracy. They cannot sell their products for prices higher than what they advertised or posted. The law also requires that they give customers compensation for price errors.
However, merchants can choose between two different systems to respect these rules:
- individual posting of prices on each product
- posting of prices using optical scanners and barcodes
Individual Posting of Prices on Each Product
A merchant who decides to indicate prices on each product must do this systematically for all products.
However, there are categories of exceptions: for these products, merchants do not have to indicate the price individually on each product. (The exceptions are explained below.)
For these categories of products, merchants can simply post the price clearly and legibly near the place where they are for sale.
Compensation for Price Errors
When prices are posted individually on each product, the lowest price rule applies if there’s a price error.
This means that, if there’s a difference between the price indicated directly on the product and the price advertised in a flyer, in a newspaper or on a sign, the merchant must sell the item at the lowest price. In this case, the consumer is not entitled to any special discount.
Posting Prices Using Optical Scanners and Bar Codes
Merchant who don’t want to indicate the price for each product must use the universal product code optical scanning technology (what everyone calls a “scanner”).
In this case, it must meet certain conditions, including the following:
place information labels at the appropriate places:
- A label must be found near each product, such as on the shelf where they’re sold.
- It must contain a description of the item (nature, brand, size, etc.) and its price (the total price or the price per unit of measurement).
- If it’s for food, the label must in theory indicate the total price and the price per unit of measurement (such as per litre or per kilogram).
place barcodes on each product:
- Barcodes let consumers scan products to find out the price. They’re also used by merchants to charge customers at the check-out.
- Merchants cannot use barcodes for clothing: they must indicate the price individually on each product.
- Merchants can decide not to put barcodes on some products:
- In these cases, they must indicate the price individually on each product,
- Unless the products fall into one of the categories of exceptions, in which case the merchant can indicate the price near the place where they’re for sale. (The exceptions are explained below.)
when the surface area of the store makes it necessary, the merchant must make one or more optical scanners available to consumers:
- Optical scanners let consumers read a product’s barcode to find out the price.
adopt, apply and post the Accurate Pricing Policy:
- This policy provides consumers with compensation in the case of a pricing error.
- It must be posted in the business, near the check-outs.
give consumers detailed cash receipts with this information:
- merchant’s name
- merchant’s telephone number
- merchant’s e-mail address or customer service e-mail address (if applicable)
- date of the transaction
- nature of each item purchased
- price of each item
Compensation for Pricing Errors: the Accurate Pricing Policy
When prices are posted using optical scanners and barcodes, the Accurate Pricing Policy applies in the case of a pricing error that goes against the consumer.
It also applies as soon as the product is rung in at the check-out and the pricing error is noticed by the consumer, even if the purchase is not completed.
Of course, you have to buy the product for the Policy to apply.
The Policy does not apply to clothing or to products that do not have a bar code.
Rules of the Accurate Pricing Policy
- If the pricing error involves a product that costs $10 or less, the product is given to the customer free of charge.
- If the pricing error involves a product that costs more than $10, the merchant must sell the item at the advertised price and give the consumer a $10 discount.
- If the same pricing error occurs for identical products during the same transaction, the merchant must sell each product at the advertised price, but the $10 discount only applies to one product.
When the $10 Discount Does Not Apply
- The law says that merchants cannot give discounts on certain products.
e.g., tobacco and certain medications
- The law sets a minimum price for certain products and the $10 discount makes the price less than that minimum price.
e.g., milk, beer and wine
- The price rung in at the check-out is lower than the advertised price. In this case, the consumer must pay the lower of the two prices.
- A label is placed near an item but its description refers to another article.
e.g., label for a bicycle helmet is placed closer to a bicycle than the helmet itself. In this case, the consumer cannot ask for the $10 discount by purchasing the bicycle by arguing that the price at the check-out is not the same as the “advertised” price.
- The error relates to the identification of a product. In this case it’s a data entry error and the consumer must pay the price of the correct product.
e.g., when paying, a “box of noodles” is rung up rather than a “box of cookies”
Exceptions to Individual Posting of Prices
There are certain categories of exceptions: in these cases, merchants do not have to post the price individually on each product. These exceptions apply even if the merchant uses optical scanners and does not have barcodes on these products.
The exceptions are products in these categories:
- of very little value
- very small
- sold in a vending machine
- sold as part of a package, when the price of the package is indicated on it
- sold in a returnable container
- sold in bulk and not packaged (other than clothing)
- not packaged before sale and the sale price is based on a unit of measure
- food not packaged before sale
- food frozen when sold
- on sale, if the usual price is posted nearby
- not directly available to the consumer (such as “behind the counter” products)
- trees, plants or flowers
For these categories of products, the merchant can simply clearly and legibly display the price near the place where the article is sold. The prices can be indicated on a shelf, in a display case, on a price card or at the end of an aisle.
Solutions for Problems
If a merchant does not follow the accurate pricing rules, whether it involves the lowest price rule or the Accurate Pricing Policy, this is what a consumer can do:
- If the consumer is dealing with a cashier, he can ask to speak to the manager or the person in charge. These people are generally aware of the rules that apply in this type of situation.
- If the consumer is not able to agree with the manager or the person in charge of the store, he can complain to the Office de la protection du consommateur.
- The consumer can also formally ask the merchant to respect the law.
You can ask for the reimbursement to which you’re entitled even if you notice the pricing error after the purchase is complete. For example, if you notice the pricing error once you get home, you can return to the store and ask for a reimbursement.
Note: When a customer pays cash, a merchant can round a price up or down to the nearest 5 cents. This practice respects the price labelling and accuracy rules.
Also, merchants don’t have to indicate in the advertised price the amount of a deposit paid by consumers on containers, packaging or products when the deposit is refunded when the item is brought back to a store for recycling.
Did you know?
A merchant who does not respect the Accurate Pricing Policy can be ordered to pay a fine of $2,000 to $100,000.