May 10, 2005
“ONE FREE ITEM” LAWS
By: Daniel Duffy, Principal Analyst
You asked for summaries of the laws entitling a consumer to one free item if a bar code scanner charges the wrong price.
There are two laws entitling a consumer to a free item if a bar code scanner charges the wrong price. One law is in statute and the other is in regulation. Both apply to sales of certain “consumer commodities,” which the law defines as any food, drug (other than prescription) or other product that is customarily made for retail sale for consumption or use by individuals (CGS § 21a-73). Both laws apply to all types of sellers as long as they use a bar scanner that reads a Universal Product Coding (UPC) label to total a consumer's purchases.
The statutory provision applies in a narrow set of circumstances. State statutes require sellers using UPC to mark each item with its price (known as “item pricing”). If the retailer (1) advertises consumer commodities in print (such as in a weekly circular), (2) sells the items at the advertised reduced price for at least one week, (3) does not mark each item with the reduced price and instead uses a sign posted next to the sale items to advertise it, and (4) its UPC system fails to charge the consumer at the reduced price—then the consumer is entitled to a free item (CGS § 21a-79(b)(4)).
The provision in regulation applies to a narrow set of commodities. The statutes establish certain exemptions from the item-pricing requirement. One exemption is for 12 types of commodities designated by the consumer protection commissioner in regulation. The regulation designating the 12 commodities requires sellers, if a customer is charged more for one of these items than the price on its sign, to give the consumer a free item (Conn. Agencies Reg. §§ 21a-79-1 to 21a-79-7). These 12 types of commodities are: (1) canned cat food; (2) milk; (3) powdered gelatin and pudding dessert mixes; (4) canned tuna fish; (5) fresh shell eggs; (6) ice cream in one-half gallon, quart, and pint sizes; (7) frozen concentrated juices and fruit drinks; (8) toilet tissue packaged in single rolls; (9) baby food packed in glass jars; (10) individually wrapped candy and chewing gum offered for sale at the checkout; (11) salad dressings, in either bottles or packets; and (12) refrigerated yogurt in half pint sizes or less.