Price Tags and Protests: Responsible Business 101

Have you been to a grocery store in Michigan recently? If you’re from a different state in America, you’d be surprised to find that all the products in Michigan grocers, from baby food jars to bags of frozen vegetables, have price tags attached to them. It’s the result of a ten-year-old law that requires retailers to place 3/8-inch-by-3/4 inch stickers on every item in the store.

The Michigan law applies not only to grocery stores, but to retail stores of every kind. “If you have a big-box lumber company, by law, they should be individually price-marketing every board,” says the president of the Michigan Grocers Association Linda Gobler. Now, after a decade of lobbying, a group of retailers may be close to winning a repeal of the Item Pricing Law.
With a new governor in place, Michigan retailers are hoping that bar codes and computerized inventory procedures will all together replace the price tags. As newly-inaugurated Governor Rick Synder put it: “Its an undue burden on retailers and consumers.”

Beyond the cost of implementing the Item Pricing Law (estimated at $2.2 billion per year), many economists in the state and business leaders are concerned about the long-term effects on sustainability if the law is allowed to stay on the books. While “going green” may seem cliché, Michigan businesses often must employ additional employees, use unneeded amounts of ink and paper, and spend money they could otherwise invest elsewhere, to comply with the Item Pricing Law.

Furthermore, the law doesn’t seem to make much sense from a legal perspective either. According to FAQs provided on the state attorney general’s website, the law includes "bonuses" and other legal solutions for consumers whose products scan at a different price than that listed on the sticker. Shoppers are allowed, for instance, to sue the retailer for upwards of $250 in damages plus court costs.

The law is likely to be scrapped in this legislative season – Michigan’s new governor has spoken widely against its continuation and a bill was introduced in the state congress in January that would repeal it. While Michigan’s law is certainly the broadest such policy in the United States, local ordinances like this exist in other parts of the nation. Massachusetts is the only other state with an all-encompassing item pricing law.

Photo credit: Christopher Matson