IS WEIGHTS AND MEASURES KNOCKING AT YOUR DOOR?
By: Sara Bagley
Weights and Measures divisions of state and local governments regulate “weighing and measuring” devices. States define what constitutes a “measuring device” differently. Some jurisdictions consider regular cash registers and point of sale (POS) systems as measuring devices because they count the quantity of items. Other jurisdictions only regulate those devices that actually “weigh”, meaning that they have or are connected to scales or a weighing device, in order to ensure the scales are accurately calibrated. Some states only regulate devices related to weighing or measuring specific items, such as, agricultural products, food, tobacco, and fuel, while others regulate any commodity priced by a scanner.
Cash registers and POS system typically must be NIST (National Institute Standards and Technology) approved devices. Most jurisdictions do not require regular POS systems and cash registers, without scales for weighing, to be registered with the state, but some do. Devices with scales that measure weight need to be registered with the State because each State needs to ensure that scales are properly calibrated, and consumers are getting what they pay for. Some jurisdictions, like California or Washington D.C. for example, require annual registrations of any POS system, with fees associated based on the number of devices at the business location. Before starting a business in a new jurisdiction, be sure to check with local rules and regulations so you don’t miss any required registrations.
Separate from any registration requirement, Weights and Measures divisions are generally empowered to perform price verification inspections. All jurisdictions have divisions that conduct price verification inspections, whether on the state or local level. Typically, inspectors conduct routine inspections of packaged goods using statistical sampling procedures to determine if the proper count is being used and the accurate price is being charged. As part of the same inspection, labeling is examined for compliance with basic labeling requirements and the computation of the price.
Sometimes, inspectors identify themselves to management, and may even be in a uniform, and conduct the inspections together with store staff. In other places, inspectors are “secret shoppers”, appearing as normal customers, who unbeknownst to staff, are secretly notating any pricing or labeling discrepancies. Each jurisdiction has different requirements for how they sample which products to test, the number of products tested, and the threshold for what constitutes a pass versus a fail. Businesses are typically inspected until they pass.
Failures to pass inspections can result in a warning, an administrative fine, or even a criminal penalty. In some jurisdictions, such as Pennsylvania, 98% accuracy rate is required to be considered in good standing and inspectors typically chose to impose fines on a case by case basis, to emphasize informing and warning businesses rather than imposing fines. In other jurisdictions, such as California, failure to pass these price verification inspections are punishable by civil or criminal fines. Not only will a failing business be fined for the violation itself, but they’ll also be charged the cost of the inspections for as many times as they need to be re-inspected. Repeated failures can be considered a misdemeanor criminal offense requiring appearance in court.
To minimize the risk of a receiving a bad report from your local weights and measures inspectors, below is a list of some best practices that businesses may want to implement at retail locations to avoid getting hit with price discrepancy fines:
- Designate one person as the “Pricing Coordinator” who has overall responsibility for pricing accuracy and ensuring that every checkout register is accurately programmed to charge the correct price.
- Periodically conduct your own price verification audits – an audit of the entire store can be done at the same time that an inventory is done.
- Use written checklists to ensure audits are performed correctly.
- Promptly notify personnel of special sales and price changes, mark all such sale items with a color-coded tag or post notices of special sale prices at each checkout register to remind customers and your employees of the current price.
- Promptly remove promotional signage and prices as soon as a sale ends.
- Install viewable price display devices at the checkout registers to enable your customers to see the price charged for each item as they are being scanned (which is required by state law in some states, like California).
- Train employees with an emphasis on the store’s commitment to pricing accuracy.
- Adopt written procedures for all forms of pricing activity in the store, including checking and replacing damaged or missing shelf tags and signs on a regular basis and correction of pricing errors