Many years ago, I found myself at a grocery store doing some late night shopping just before close. I loaded a bulk box of granola bars onto the conveyor belt and the cashier ran it over the scanner. The scanner beeped and a price of $8.99 prominently displayed on the screen. I was positive the shelf price had listed $8.49, so I requested a price check. The price was confirmed and the cashier entered the new price of $8.49. As I was scooping up my purchase into my bag, I noticed a white sign on the plexiglass counter where people usually sign for their credit card transactions.
I was in a rush and did not get a chance to read it that day. If I had, I would have been able to get that box of granola bars for free. Free!! To this day, I remember that moment and use it as a reminder to bring up the Scanning Code of Practice whenever possible.
The actual sign is typically displayed on the counter, on the register, at the entrance of the store, or any combination of those locations.
What exactly is the Scanning Code of Practice?
Basically, if the scanned price of a product at checkout is higher than the price that is displayed or advertised, the item becomes free of charge if the correct price is $10 or less. If the correct price is more than $10, the cost of the item is reduced by $10.
The code applies to all scannable items with a Universal Product Code (UPC), bar code, or Price Look Up (PLU) items, with the exception of merchandise not easily accessible to the public (ex. prescription drugs, behind-the-counter cosmetics) and individually marked items.
When does it apply?
SCOP applies to one item, and the others will be charged at the corrected price.
According to the website, SCOP only applies after the final sale price has been displayed, including discounts and coupons. Technically then, you should hold your tongue until after the cashier presses “Total” on your purchase, while wearing your best poker face.
The product must match the product description on the shelf tag, and cannot be used where the law dictates a set or minimum price or when a reduction in cost is illegal for the retailer. Products that have a sticker label indicating the price are also not eligible for SCOP, which usually includes clearance items.
What if you are buying more than one of the same item?
SCOP applies to one identical item only. The others will be charged at the corrected price.
Examples of how the code works
- If you were to find an item with a label on the shelf advertising it at $8.99, but when scanned it rings up at $12.50, you would end up getting the item for free because the lower advertised/correct price of $8.99 is less than $10.
- If you were to find an item advertised in a store flyer for $45, but when scanned it rings up at $60, you would pay $35 for the product after SCOP is applied because they would subtract $10 from the advertised/correct price of $45.
- If you were to find an item with a shelf label of $12.50 and it rings up at $8.99, SCOP does not apply at all because the price is lower at the checkout than advertised. You would most likely pay the scanned price of $8.99, not the $12.50.
- Finally, if you were to find an item with a price sticker affixed to the item itself for $8.99, but when scanned it rungs up at $12.50, SCOP would not apply because it does not apply to products that are individually labelled with a price. You would most likely pay the lower price of $8.99.
Which stores adhere to SCOP?
SCOP is a voluntary code which the following companies have agreed to follow:
- Best Buy
- Canada Safeway Limited
- Canadian Tire Corporation Ltd.
- Co-op Atlantic
- Costco Wholesale Canada Ltd.
- Federated Co-operatives Limited
- Future Shop
- Giant Tiger Stores Ltd.
- Home Hardware (2 franchisees only)
- Lawton Drug Stores
- Loblaw Companies Limited
- London Drugs
- Longos Brothers Fruit Markets
- Lovell Drugs
- Metro Inc.
- Overwaitea Food Group
- Pharma-Save (BC only)
- Shoppers Drug Mart
- Sobeys Inc
- The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company of Canada Limited
- The Groupe Jean Coutu (NB and ON only)
- The Harry Watson Group
- The Home Depot Canada
- The North West Company
- Thrifty Foods
- Toys R Us
- Wal*Mart Canada Corp.
+ 1374 independent locations
Related: Who Says Nothing In Life Is Free?
Make sure you ask for SCOP!
In most cases, the cashier will not automatically invoke SCOP when you mention the item has rung in incorrectly. The majority will do as my cashier did, which is only apply the lower price and request payment. You need to ask for SCOP to be applied most of the time. Even though it has been in effect since June 2002, many cashiers will either:
- Look at you as if you've just spoken in pig latin, and tell you they've never heard of such a thing (at which time you can show them the large white sticker prominently displayed). Or,
- Apply SCOP without any argument.
I'm not sure why SCOP is not offered unless you ask, but it really is worth asking, especially if you get the “pig latin” look. At that point, I consider the free item a bonus!
Consumer Complaint Process
If you are dissatisfied with the cashier's decision, you can ask to be directed to the store manager or supervisor. If the store manager or supervisor cannot resolve the issue, you can ask to be directed to a company representative. SCOP suggests that disputes should be resolved no later than one month after the error has occurred.
If the dispute still cannot be resolved, either party can appeal to the Scanner Price Accuracy Committee at 1-866-499-4599.
Once, I had an issue resolving a SCOP item. I went to the store, specifically to buy a product listed on the front page of the flyer. The shelf price listed last week's price. When the item scanned, the price matched last week's higher price. I asked about SCOP and the cashier stated that SCOP didn't apply because there was a system glitch that didn't allow them to change the pricing. The manager confirmed the glitch was chain-wide and that the signage hadn't been changed so that they would still comply with the SCOP wording. According to him, the “display” price was not higher than the scanned price.
The “system glitch” exception wasn't stated in the rules of SCOP listed on the website of the Competition Bureau of the Government of Canada or the Retail Council of Canada. I phoned the head office of the store and they confirmed the glitch, and also credited me with $10.
The lower price was advertised in the flyer after all, and the official SCOP rules specifically mention the price “advertised by the store”, not just “displayed in-store”.
Tips for taking advantage of the code
- Generally, the first morning of the advertised sale week is the best time to find SCOP items. Some stores may not have changed over all the shelf prices from the previous week or their system may not be fully updated with the new prices yet. As a result, you may stumble upon some good deals.
- Some retailers have in-store price scanners for consumers so you can determine the price of your purchases before you reach the checkout. Therefore, you can find out before you proceed to the checkout if you have a SCOP item in your cart.
- If you return to the store on a different day (or after the staff changes over) and the price has not yet been corrected, you can get another SCOP item for your efforts. The purpose of the code is to get them to quickly update and correct their prices after all.
I've used SCOP to get everything from food to baby items, and even household goods. It feels great to save more on the items I was already planning to buy!