Have you ever bought an item on sale, only to get to the checkout and be charged the full price?

Depending on the store and the cost of the item, you could be entitled to get it free under the Scanner Price Accuracy Voluntary Code.

The code was implemented in 2002, when bar code scanning was introduced in response to consumer concern over wrong charges. It's endorsed by the Competition Bureau, and was put in place through the joint efforts of retail associations and the Retail Council of Canada, which manages it. 

Under the code, which applies in participating stores, if the scanned price of an item is higher than the price shown on the shelf or advertised by the store, for instance, the customer is entitled to receive any item $10 or less for free. Anyone with an item costing more than $10 would get a discount of $10 off the sale price. 

cbc

This item was free because it was originally scanned at the full price rather than the sale price. Shoppers Drug Mart is one of many retailers in Canada that adhere to the Scanner Price Accuracy Code. (CBC)

The code does not apply to individually ticketed items and is in place only at participating stores.

And be aware that not all stores using the code may automatically give you the item free, so you may have to remind cashiers.

Consumer awareness 'fairly low'

The Retail Council of Canada acknowledges not everyone knows about the code.

"I think consumer awareness is fairly low," Greg Wilson told CBC News in a phone interview, adding often, store employees pick up the discrepancy.

"My experience is if you go and speak to employees in fairly large grocery stores, that awareness is very high," he said. "In fact, often the code is applied by the person manning the sales point with or without consumer knowledge. What will happen is the item will scan incorrectly, and the staff member will notice it and apply the code at that point."

Many major retailers honour code

Wilson said a small number of merchants across the country subscribe to the code, but they are fairly large merchants, so represent a large percentage of the transactions.

Seven thousand stores in Canada. except in Quebec, have committed to adhering to the code. Quebec stores comply with a similar code under its Consumer Protection Act. The stores include Walmart, Shoppers Drug Mart, Lawtons, Costco, Toys "R" Us, Sobeys and Loblaws. 

The full list of stores can found on the retail council's website. 

Fine print

If you buy five incorrectly priced items, the store is only required to provide one free, but must charge the sale price for the others.

Anyone not satisfied with a cashier's decision regarding application of the code at a participating store should first speak to the store manager or supervisor, and if you aren't satisfied then, you may register a complaint with the Scanner Price Accuracy Committee (1-866-499-4599).

Wilson said the number of complaints and valid complaints has dropped over the years.

"Ninety-two per cent of calls are not valid scanner code complaints," he said. "That tells me there are a lot of people who aren't familiar with the scanner code."