NYC Recruits Supermarket Snitchers

Discussion
Aug 01, 2011

New York City has launched a new outreach initiative to educate shoppers about their rights at the supermarket and deputize them to act as "secret shoppers" to report if they experience any overcharges. Complaints or abuses found can be tweeted to @NYCDCA using the hashtag #nickeled&dimed or posted to the Department of Consumer Affairs’ (DCA) Facebook page.

The new cyber-initiative is part of a two-year intensive crackdown on extensive illegal pricing practices at city supermarkets, according to a statement. Last August, the DCA announced that its yearlong inspection of supermarkets throughout the five boroughs resulted in a compliance rate of only 48 percent. Commissioner Jonathan Mintz vowed at the time to double the number of supermarket inspections in the next fiscal year. Midway through the next inspection period through January, 500 inspections found the compliance rate had dropped to 33 percent.

When the DCA announces this year’s results of its intensified crackdown in August, it will also relay stories that New Yorkers have shared so far through the #nickeled&dimed program.

DCAIn particular, DCA is urging shoppers to look for lack of prices on individual items, items incorrectly rung up at the register, advertised prices that don’t scan correctly at the register, a store’s failure to post the unit price on the shelf, and a failure to provide scales for weighing items sold by weight.

"New York consumers will make great ‘secret shoppers’ to tip us off to their own firsthand accounts about what’s happening at supermarket checkout counters," said Mr. Mintz.  "We’ll also be sharing important consumer tips with our followers and fans."

Are the compliance issues discovered in New York City representative of other parts of the country? What do you think of the city’s plan to recruit consumers to help inspect supermarkets?

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13 Comments on "NYC Recruits Supermarket Snitchers"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

It seems to me that all they’ve done is made it easier for consumers to report violations. Instead of the old-fashioned way (make a phone call, write a letter), now you can use Twitter or Facebook). I’m underwhelmed.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
7 years 6 months ago

So, now NY is deputizing the consumer to gauge what is effectively the operational competence of the supermarkets and then report it to the anti-business group known as the Department of Consumer Affairs. Gee, swell.

While there are no doubt grocers that play games with prices, they are a tiny minority for the simple reason that when customers find out (which they always do), they stop buying there and the retailer goes out of business. Creating vigilantes to go searching for executional slips is asking for abuse and, even worse, involving bureaucrats in what will eventually involve fines and additional costs to the retailers. This will lead to more closings, less choice, and higher prices for the consumer.

Genius.

Roy White
Guest
Roy White
7 years 6 months ago
Any program that empowers consumers should be viewed as a positive from an overall societal point of view, and while it is possible to consider this program a vigilante posse, that’s not really the case. There is little hope of ever controlling the bodegas, but even corporate and independent supermarkets in the NYC area frequently do not post prices on shelves or product, or have the wrong product on the shelf in back of the tag. This is due more to sloppy operations than from premeditated malice but still puts the consumer at a disadvantage. And like all NYC programs, there are likely not enough inspectors to serve an 8 million-strong population and cover thousands of food stores. Possibly the inspectors are overwhelmed. They only managed 500 inspections in a six-month period, so one wonders how they might be able to respond to many thousands of nickeled&dimed tweets. Further, while there has been press, there has not been much of a media blitz announcing this program. Net-net, this appear to be an imaginative, well-intended program… Read more »
Jeb Watts
Guest
Jeb Watts
7 years 6 months ago

New York has a lot bigger problems they should be trying to solve.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Hurray for the whistle blowers, be they wiki-leakers or individual citizens. How else do we keep the world honest?

In New York City, we have an administration that believes in the power of the people. Give the people the information and tools and they will make good decisions and keep others honest.

It is a matter of where the control is. If the people don’t have control, the other entities will. And be they government or business, they will take advantage at every opportunity.

Tony Orlando
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

If we screw up, we’ll hear about it real quick from the customers themselves. It is enough of a headache to deal with all the government folks to hire snitchers.

No thanks

Roger Saunders
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Ridiculous … an added example of government bureaucracy stepping into areas that they cannot make significant impact on — this time at the local level.

New York is one of the quintessential markets that over-regulates businesses and thus drives up costs to the consumer. They are NOT likely going to understand that fact, and instead will grow a larger bureaucracy to inspect. That, in turn, will bring on higher taxes, which will negatively impact consumers and businesses, which will choose to relocate to friendlier turf.

We can only hope that this type of pattern is not one that other municipalities emulate.

Eliott Olson
Guest
Eliott Olson
7 years 6 months ago

New York and New Orleans love inspectors for reasons known to the local merchants. The city should recruit volunteers to work in the stores for free and bring down the cost of food.

Jerome Schindler
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

Fortunately, I have not had to deal with the NYC Consumer Affairs people in many years, but I suspect this is more about revenue than consumer protection. I never understood why NYC needed stricter consumer protection laws than the rest of the state. Walmart can expect to get hammered by union inspired snitchers when they start doing business in NYC.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
7 years 6 months ago

We’ll get a clearer picture of this program’s worth in about two years. Right now, it’s still too early to tell whether consumers will take to this type of reporting of price abuses. And honestly, I doubt they will. After the initial publicity has died down, I wonder whether hordes of time-starved consumers with short attention spans will still take the time to report abuses via Twitter and Facebook. What’s more likely to happen is a handful of very diligent consumers will consistently report abuses.

DCA gets props for giving consumers the gift of empowering control. I just don’t think it’s a gift consumers will actually use.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
7 years 6 months ago

NYC has too many lawyers.

That, at least, was my initial reaction to the headline, but after reading some of the diametrically opposing posts – “methinks thou doth protesteth too much.” I’m uncertain. Specifically, what is meant by a “compliance” rate of 33% (and implicitly 67% noncompliance)? If it means then 67% of prices are wrong or missing, then yes, it’s clearly a problem. On the other hand, if it mean that 67% of supermarkets have a missing label somewhere in the store, or mischarge on an item sometime during the year, then it’s self-serving nonsense. DCA has a vested interest in finding problems — whether they’re there or not — but dishonest merchants have a similar self-interest in not finding them…so I just don’t know.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
7 years 6 months ago

I say this is a good idea overall. Shoppers have a right to find prices that are clearly posted, accurate and include a unit price. Any reputable retailer will already have procedures in place to insure that this information is provided for consumers. If it’s not, then I think a tweet to the NYC DCA is worth it.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
7 years 6 months ago

NYC is encouraging Emptors to Caveat, and that’s great if they can filter out the kooks (not many in NYC, I’d wager). The NYC Police Tip Line almost never receives kooky tips, right? The NYC 911 service never receives calls to help someone find their missing cat, right? On the other hand, how would you like to be the filterer at #Nickeled&Dimed?

The truth, of course, is that NYC is arguably the very worst city in which to pioneer such an initiative. While it captures headlines, it will be worse than useless. The kookometer will peg out early and often, and follow-up will be next to impossible. Chasing down all the complaints will be a nightmare. What’s necessary in my mind, if it doesn’t already exist, is a system that accumulates location-based complaints over time and addresses those with the most frequency.

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