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Compliance officers from the Division of Standards recently inspected 3,225 items in 100 retail stores throughout the Commonwealth. While many consumers might ask: What is the Division of Standards? The more important question is: What were they looking for?

The state’s Division of Standards (DOS) is a regulatory agency within the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. Its primary mission is to provide uniformity in the marketplace by enforcing standard accuracy requirements for commercial devices used in the weighing or measuring of any item sold by weight, measure or count. In simpler terms, the DOS enforces the accuracy of item pricing and price scanners, scales, weights and measures.

In this role, compliance officers visit stores looking to ensure that items ring up at the price for which they are marked. The Massachusetts Item Pricing Law requires food and grocery stores to individually price mark most items with the actual selling price. The law also requires food and grocery merchants to sell any item at the lowest price indicated on an item, sign, or advertisement.

Consumers should be pleased to know that overall pricing accuracy exceeded 99.3 percent—1.3% higher than the state accuracy standard of 98 percent. However, despite best efforts to maintain accurate prices, even the most diligent store employees and systems sometime make mistakes. Of the 3,225 items inspected, 22 were found to be overpriced. Pricing errors ranged from 10 cents on a package of Halls Cough Drops to a $7.00 dollar overcharge on a 36 pack of Bounty Paper Towels. Stores that have pricing errors or fail to meet the state standard are fined and retested to ensure that corrective action has been taken.

Here are some other things to keep in mind when shopping:

  • Food stores or departments that do not use price scanners are required to individually price each item in addition to displaying the price on the shelves.
    • Some items may be exempt from the provisions of the law such as milk or candy because of how quickly they sell.
  • If a grocer offers a rewards or discount card, the regular price must be displayed alongside the discounted price.
  • If there is a discrepancy between the price listed on the shelf or item and the price that it rings up at, the consumer must be offered one of two corrections:
    • If the item costs more than $10 and rings up higher than the advertised price, $10 must be deducted from the lowest advertised price.
    • If the item costs less than $10 and rings up higher than the advertised price the item should be given as free.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s  Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for all Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s Lemon Laws, data breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Program and the state’s Do Not Call Registry.

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