ALBERTSONS AGREES TO PAY FINES

BOISE, Idaho -- Albertsons here agreed last week to pay $1.85 million in fines and other costs for overcharging customers in 15 California counties.equires Albertsons to implement procedures to prevent future overcharges; to institute a "get it free" program if an item rings up at a higher price than advertised; and to install electronic shelf tags at one store -- all of which have been done voluntarily

BOISE, Idaho -- Albertsons here agreed last week to pay $1.85 million in fines and other costs for overcharging customers in 15 California counties.

equires Albertsons to implement procedures to prevent future overcharges; to institute a "get it free" program if an item rings up at a higher price than advertised; and to install electronic shelf tags at one store -- all of which have been done voluntarily over the last few years, Albertsons said in a statement last week.

Albertsons said most of the problems followed its merger with Lucky Stores in 1999. "The problems outlined in Friday's agreed-to court order are now behind us," the company said. "Scan accuracy has always been important to Albertsons, and we have committed ourselves to price validation, with a goal of 100% accuracy."

According to state officials, weights and measures inspectors from the 15 counties conducted 335 inspections at 157 Albertsons stores between September 1999 and December 2002 during which they found incorrect prices on 780 items, resulting in overcharges totaling more than $700.

Before the lawsuit was actually filed, the state agencies talked with Albertsons officials and reached a settlement agreement; as a result, when the suit was formally filed the Friday before Labor Day, a judge in San Diego Superior Court accepted the settlement and closed the case.

State officials said Albertsons agreed to the following terms:

To employ a scan coordinator at every store, whose sole duty will be to ensure accurate scanner pricing, including making sure that advertised prices are the same as those being charged at the checkstand. Albertsons said last week it implemented dedicated scan managers at all stores some time ago.

To take specific steps to correct pricing errors when consumers complain.

To give customers an item free of charge if it rings up at a higher price than advertised, excluding liquor, tobacco and dairy products. Albertsons also agreed to post information about that program with signs at every checkstand and in all regular weekly printed ads published in California.

Albertsons said last week it has offered "one of the nation's most aggressive scan guarantees" for many years, dating back to the years before the merger.

To install electronic shelf tags at one store to eliminate discrepancies between shelf and checkstand prices. An Albertsons spokesman told SN the tags were installed several weeks ago at a store in Fullerton, Calif.

If Albertsons provides proof of the installation to state authorities within 90 days, it will get back $160,000 of the fine, Tricia Pummill, the deputy district attorney in San Diego who prosecuted the case, told SN.