EXCLUSIVE | City Council member aims to give NYC food shoppers a break at the register if they pay higher than listed price for groceries

Food shopper at grocery store checkout line
A food shopper at a grocery checkout line.
File photo/Dean Moses

A City Council member wants to give New Yorkers a big discount whenever grocery stores charge them more for items than the lowest advertised price, amNewYork Metro has learned.

Under the proposed legislation, the text of which amNewYork Metro obtained, customers would have legal recourse to get products for free if what they are charged at the register is higher than the shelf price, sale price or advertised price, so long as the product is under $10. For products over $10 that bear similar price discrepancies, shoppers would be able to claim a $10 off.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu (D-Manhattan) sponsors the bill, which would only apply to “retail food stores” and includes those that sell food items as their primary products, such as grocery stores and bodegas. It would also cover non-food items, such as paper, cleaning and health products sold by those businesses.

Abreu said the bill, which is based on similar legislation enacted in Massachusetts in 2019, aims to protect working class New Yorkers from getting fleeced at the checkout counter, while also helping them save every dollar they can.

“It’s very frequent when we go to the store, we see things that are cheap, or relatively inexpensive, and then when it gets scanned at the register, it turns out to be a few dollars more,” the council member said, in an interview. “Every dollar adds up, especially in this economy, and we want to be able to save as many resources as we can for working class families.”

City Council Member Shaun Abreu.Credit John McCarten/NYC Council Media Unit

Another goal of the measure, Abreu said, is incentivizing businesses to ensure they are presently customers with accurate prices.

“If you’re someone who is intentionally exploiting [customers] by having inaccurate prices, then this is going to have an impact on you, it’s that simple,” Abreu said.

The council member said the problem of price discrepancies in retail food businesses is quite common. While the city Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) already takes action against businesses that engage in the practice, he said the bill would make it possible for millions of patrons to aid in the enforcement against it.

If customers are not given a discount after notifying businesses of the differences in price, Abreu said, they can lodge a complaint with DCWP. The agency can then inspect the store’s checkout system, according to the bill.

Business owners will be required to post clear signage of the policy throughout their establishments so that patrons know their rights, Abreu said. The signage will also help store owners know what consumers are entitled to.

However, customers will not be able to claim the discount in cases where they engage in “willful tampering,” such as “removing, altering or moving price tags, stamps, marks, or signs.”

Furthermore, in cases where the lowest price is less than half of the register price or when customers seek another discount on the same product within the same 24-hour period, the reduction will not apply.

Abreu said that even though he has mostly engaged with consumers, rather than store owners, on the legislation, he is confident that business operators who are already pricing accurately will support the measure.

“I think any business you speak to, if they’re being honest about their business practices, there’s nothing for them to be worried about,” he said. “For the most part, I’ve engaged consumers about this.I didn’t see a reason to speak to businesses about this, because I think that they’d agree that if you’re honest, this should be no problem.”