Walmart Register Scales Off By As Much As 5 lbs

Maybe there’s a localized outbreak of inaccurate grocery store scales happening in Kansas City, MO — or maybe grocery store scales in general are just not very accurate? A local KC news team decided to randomly test some grocery store check out scales to see if you were being charged the correct amount for your green beans and whatnot. 5 out of 30 of the scales tested were inaccurate. The news team also went through 2,000 state inspections and found the most egregious examples of malfunctioning scales.

NBC Action News Investigators poured through more than 2,000 state inspections of Jackson County cash register scales conducted in 2007 finding 30 scales so far out of calibration, agents shut them down.

In addition to reviewing the state inspections, NBC Action News went undercover in 30 grocery stores testing scales all over the metro.

We used a scientifically calibrated weight certified as 2 pounds by nationally known Rice Lake Weighing Systems.

“Two pounds,” said a clerk recorded on hidden camera after accurately weighing our metal cylinder at his register.

Only 25 out of the 30 cash register scales we tested were accurate.

Wal-Mart was the worst offender. According to state inspectors, one of their scales claimed items were 5 lbs heavier than they actually were. The Department of Weights and Measures shut the register down.

There is a silver lining in this story, however. All of the registers that NBC tested itself were weighted in the consumer’s favor.

Scale Inaccuracies Exposed in Stores [KSHB] (Thanks, Bladefist!)

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  1. catskyfire says:

    Which is why there are weights and measures inspectors. Whether inaccurate weights are deliberate or just the result of use over time, inspectors check regularly to keep things fair.

    I am disturbed by the ‘oh no!’ wording. “only 25 of the 30 registers checked were accurate”. That sounds terrible. But it’s really only 5 of the 30 were incorrect. That’s not so bad. 1/6th isn’t ideal, but the first way makes it sound like a terrible epidemic.

  2. You know what gets me? People who don’t tare out the weight of containers. I hate when I see people buying salad, and you know they are getting charged for that 1/2 to 1 ounce extra.

    • Miss Scarlet in the Hall with a Revolver says:

      @Git Em SteveDave loves this guy–>: Cashiers should have a button that will adjust for the weight of salad containers or plastic veggie bags. it bag has a certain “tare” rate.

      • karmaghost says:

        @Miss Scarlet in the Hall with a Revolver: True, although some cashiers don’t quite understand the concept all the time. I caught one of my cashiers taking two 3 tare containers, putting them both on the scale at once, essentially charging the customer for the second container. Another cashier was doing the same thing, except adding the two 3 tares together to make 6 which, while it makes sense, actually doesn’t work.

  3. JN2 says:

    I hate paying the weight of the plastic bag and twist-tie when I buy veggies.

    but then, I am not fond of semicolons, amphibians and primary-colored breakfast cereals too.

    ~~ Cranky old man.

    • karmaghost says:

      @JN2: Depending on the store, if you weight your own produce (if you can, that is), the scales will compensate slightly for the weight of the bag and tie. At the store I work at, the produce and bulk food scales start at -.01 lbs. Also, when you get to the register and try to weight just the bag and twist tie, the register will often tell you there’s not enough weight.

    • steveliv says:

      @JN2: in all actuality the price you are a paying for the bag and tie are very negligible. in any case, how about you try just tying the end of the bag into a knot.

  4. Thrashy says:

    I’d just like to point out, for the record, that the local NBC affiliate here in KC is well-known for sensationalistic reporting and making mountains out of molehills. Take this report with a grain of salt.

  5. Tank says:

    ya lost me at “whatnot”. that word turns my stomach faster than warn, sour buttermilk. i quit reading and went right to comments.

  6. nicemarmot617 says:

    Yeah, scales get off kilter all the time. 5 out of 30 isn’t really bad at all. How does this even classify for consumerist? Especially with the headline about Walmart – oh no, one of their scales was off. Obviously it’s a giant conspiracy to rob poor people by charging them for 10 pounds when they only got 5!

  7. no.no.notorious says:

    my boyfriend and i were visiting my boyfriend and his uncle in Boston and his uncle wanted to make paella, as authentic as possible. they got 1lb of muscles from whole foods. in the batch was a large stone, black, about the size and shape of a muscle. i couldn’t believe it.

    THEY’RE ALL OUT TO GET US!!!!

    but i have to agree with another commenter. 1/6 faulty rate isn’t bad, especially for walmart. they should get that checked out though.

    • Keavy_Rain says:

      @no.no.notorious:
      You must not watch Good Eats.

      On his mussel show Alton Brown said you should always increase your order by 20% to compensate for any duds in the batch.

      Or, in your case, mussel-sized rocks.

  8. gqcarrick says:

    The local weights and measures guy must be asleep and not looking into that.

    • catskyfire says:

      @gqcarrick: I can’t speak for Kansas, but in Nebraska, scales are checked once a year. Government doesn’t have the resources to check every scale more often, unless they receive a specific complaint.

    • Anonymous says:

      I am a weights & measures inspector in a western state. Several times I have inspected and varified weighing and measuring devices and returned within a week because of a consumer’s complaint usually to find that the device is working fine. We must understand that these are mechanical devices and anything can go wrong at anytime. Even a new car can break down driving it off the lot. Many consumers think they can test a gas pump’s accuracy, for instance, by their gas gage. This is totally rediculous.

  9. What The Geek says:

    7of /1 in 6 isn’t terrible per se, but it isn’t good either. If you multiply that by all of the grocery scales in all of the stores in the entire country, it adds up. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying the grocery stores are out to get us – I’m sure just as many scales underweigh things as overweigh them. I’m just saying this is a problem that needs attention.

  10. TACP says:

    5 pounds off? It would have to have been a scale that’s rarely used, because it would be pretty obvious.

  11. Suaveydavey says:

    That is why i always peel bananas pre-purchase.

  12. Nixi says:

    I work for a UK branch of a global retail & industrial scale company.

    The 25 out of 30 pass rate is on the poor side, but unfortunately commonplace in giant chain stores. The employees are underpaid and turn over faster then they can be trained to use and maintain the equipment.

    I highly doubt that people were tampering with the scales to get them to weigh out; systematic blocks are usually set on the programming to prevent shenanigans like that. (I should know, I put them on there.)

  13. eelmonger says:

    First of all, the initial figures, 30 out of 2000 is probably pretty good, that’s 1.5%. Secondly, the investigation done by the news team only says 25 out of 30 were accurate. They don’t say how inaccurate, and since it’s local news they might be screaming over a reading of 1.99 pounds (and after reading the article, that’s a number they cite). The fact that all they errors they reported were in the consumer’s favor could just be an automatic tare, so the cashier doesn’t have to push a button for plastic bagged stuff.

    The fact of the matter is that these scales do get out of wack, that’s just what happens and that’s why they get inspected. It’s impossible to be perfectly accurate, so they do allow some leeway. The 5lb error scale was found by inspectors, not by the news teams, so I’m going to guess it was a scale they had unplugged and sitting on a shelf, cause people are going to realize a 5lb discrepency. Plus, the article says it’s 5lbs under.

  14. TheStonepedo says:

    Did Walmart lead in total weight inaccuracy (there are hundreds of stores in some states), in frequency of weight inaccuracies in favor of the retailer which take advantage of unsuspecting customers, or in having the single most inaccurate scale? I realize The Consumerist summarizes the findings of others, but this claims of “worst” in the summary without any frame of reference amounts to senseless Walmart bashing.

  15. madanthony says:

    I’m curious how you can do an undercover investigation that consists of having the person put a weight on the cash register scale. It seems pretty obvious that you are investigating to me.

    • cwsterling says:

      @madanthony: What they do is they pick up like a potato, or a bag of peanuts or something that is weighted. They take it through the line and have the scale weigh, which will put the weight on the receipt, then they take one of their scales and weigh the same bag to get as close as possible. They compare the two weights. I was warned where I work, so I then started to use the tare button (takes off .xx lb from the final weight) meaning it would at least take off the weight of the plastic bag the items were in. If the customer bagged something that was already in a bag, I would take off the heaver bag, they were made to pay for the lighter bag, but o well

  16. mcjake says:

    At the wal-mart down the street, I couldn’t help notice a big sticker on the scale saying “This is not certified by The Nevada Board of blah blah blah.”

  17. NatalieEumelus says:

    Walmarts employees do NOT service the scales in this case.

    I used to work for NCR which maintained 90% of the stores electronic equipment including the scales. They are calibrated correctly to begin with using the exact same type of weights used in the news story. Over time they will fall out of calibration but a 5lbs difference seems suspicious to me since the scales were only up to 30lbs.

  18. silver-bolt says:

    Solution. Walmart has a fitness section. Go there, pick up a 1 or 2 lb weight, and use that on the scale first. If its not +-.04 or less then don’t use that scale.

    • Bladefist says:

      @silver-bolt: I know you’re just having fun, but to take you serious for a moment, fitness weights don’t have the tolerances that other stuff has.

      I one time weighed some fitness weights, and they were way off.

  19. mbz32190 says:

    This really isn’t surprising…I work at Wegmans and there have been many times that scales have been “failed” and unplugged for a few weeks until they get fixed. Especially in a high volume store like Wal-Mart, and with inspections only once or twice a year, its not a huge shock.

  20. hankrearden says:

    Waitaminnit.

    “There is a silver lining in this story, however. All of the registers that NBC tested itself were weighted in the consumer’s favor. “

    So, uh…

  21. tator says:

    “5 out of 30 isn’t really bad at all”. What if your brakes failed 5 out of 30 times? It would be no big deal for the store to have a standard weight and confirm the scales daily or weekly. They are not required to weight for the inspectors.

  22. Trojan69 says:

    OK. I must be stoopid.

    If a scale is under weighing by 5 lbs., and I have, say, 2.3 lbs of bananas, doesn’t this mean that my bananas would have less than zero weight, and would, therefore, be FREE?

    Wal*Mart didn’t notice they were giving away produce?

    Unpossible.