Safeway's 2 Bad Habits: Overcharging, and Not Obeying the Courts

Safeway store
Safeway store

Safeway (SWY) -- North America's second-largest supermarket chain, after Kroger (KR) -- has already gotten into hot water for ripping off customers: The state of California, which has the highest concentration of Safeway stores in the country, has sued the company repeatedly since 2003 for overcharging shoppers. A recent court order demands that Safeway and its Vons stores give a customer an item for free if it's under $5 and scans at the register for more than the lowest advertised price. For overpriced items costing more than $5, the store must hand over a $5 gift card -- one per customer. Other improperly marked-up items are to be sold at their advertised prices.

Some goods are exempted -- dairy, alcohol, tobacco, fuel and pharmacy products -- but CBS San Francisco reports that Safeway is not honoring its obligations when it comes to those groceries that fall under the judgment's purview.

"After compiling numerous similar complaints," the news outlet reports, "CBS 5 ConsumerWatch went undercover shopping at five Safeway stores in three counties. Not only were we overcharged five times, but not a single store offered to give them the item for free and two stores flat out refused."

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Compounding the problem, Safeway apparently failed to post clear signs in checkout lanes explaining the policy: "When ConsumerWatch asked clerks about the signs, many had no idea where they were. One store had no signs posted at all while others were in hard to read locations."

The company's response has been far from satisfactory. Aside from apologizing for the overcharges in a statement -- and claiming that the error has been corrected -- Safeway has done essentially nothing, offering only its general 877-SAFEWAY help line as a resource for aggrieved shoppers.

Customers who experience overcharging at Safeway or Vons should contact their local department of Weights and Measures, ConsumerWatch said.