Individual price tags have been a thing of the past for more than a year.
When Governor Snyder repealed part of the Item Pricing Law, it meant retailers no longer had to put a price tag on each item on the shelf starting Sept. 1, 2011. The repeal promised to save businesses and consumers money, but a new study by Michigan Citizen Action, a state-wide citizen advocacy group, says the loss of those price tags had some damaging effects.
"The bottom line is that people are suffering more because of this," said Michael Shpunt, a research assistant for Michigan Citizen Action
Over the past year, Michigan Citizen Action used secret shoppers to collect data on grocery stores throughout Michigan since the item pricing mandate was repealed. They found prices went up instead of down, and workers hours are being cut.
"We kind of have a whole wall of stuff that used to be priced, all the lunchables and sandwich meats," said Jordan Ryckman, an employee at a major retailer in Eaton Rapids. "We don't have to price any of that now, so instead of working 8 hour shifts, we now work 4 or 5 hour shifts, and we're still expected to get the same amount of work done."
Plus, without those individual price tags, they say customers are more confused than ever. They ask clerks questions, but they might not have the answers. It's especially difficult for elderly or handicapped shoppers who can't get around as easily or spend the time price checking.
"It almost caused havoc in line because the people behind them didn't want to wait," said Executive Director of Michigan Citizen Action Linda Teeter, who also secret shopped. "All of it caused frustration at some point."
The Michigan Retailers Association and store owners say the reformed Item Pricing Law is working. They said less stickers means more customer service.
"It enabled us to be more effective, to give consumers a better shopping experience," said Vice President of Tom's Food Center, Steve Antaya. "We could focus our energies on things that make a difference. Merchandising, making sure that signage is good so people do know what the price is they're paying for items that they're picking up, because that is the most important thing."
He said customers have questions no matter what the law is, and that's just part of the business.
The Michigan Retailers Association said they haven't had any complaints, and it calls the Michigan Citizen Action study "amateur."
"Their conclusions are certainly suspect," said Senior Vice President of the Michigan Retailers Association Tom Scott. "When we look at the government data on what has happened, prices have been lower in Michigan than they have in the United States. We see a clear picture of item pricing reforms are really working."
Scott said grocery store employment is up compared to last year, and it's the first increase since 2002.
Michigan Citizen Action also claimed the Attorney General's office only spent a little over $6,000 worth of $100,000 appropriated for consumer education of the reform. The Attorney General's office said they actually spent almost $50,000 on several education efforts, including pamphlets for seniors and a wallet-sized consumer bill of rights.