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How much does that cost?

Posted by Mitch Lipka  October 3, 2012 11:27 AM

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When it comes to prices, it should seem obvious that it’s in a consumer’s interest to know how much something costs BEFORE making a purchase. For the most part, it’s not that big of a challenge. The vast majority of stores let you know. It’s how we shop – making comparisons and choices.

Massachusetts was so focused on price disclosure that grocery stores have been required to place tiny price stickers on just about everything on their shelves. Massachusetts is last state in the nation to require that level of disclosure. But, following a law change approved over the summer, grocers will be allowed to stop using the stickers in 2013.

In exchange for dropping the price stickers, stores will have to make available a certain number of price scanners and post prices where the items are stocked. If you’ve lived anywhere else; it will be something like that (the specifics are still being worked out).

While consumers seem to be OK with the idea of a price being posted, all is not well in price disclosure land. Stores like Mike’s Pastries in Boston’s North End (whose lack of prices have been discussed here before) have managed to operate pretty much forever without letting customers know what anything costs until it’s time to pay.

Shops like that never had to put on a price item by item (imagine if every cookie in a case had a sticker), but they are supposed to have some spot where a consumer can find out how much something costs before purchasing.

The Attorney General’s Office has regulations that require such disclosure, said Barbara Anthony, who heads the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. “You need to put some kind of price, whether it’s a sign or a list or a chalkboard. …You have to give the consumer information about the price of the item they’re going to buy.”

It really does make sense. Otherwise, the price literally can change at every transaction and no one can make an informed decision about whether they would want to pay an extra buck or two for something because it’s a different color or flavor.

Readers have taken issue with the absence of prices on restaurant drink menus (more on this later). Where else have you been where no prices are posted?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at


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