'You get this item for free': Canadian shopping 'hack' goes viral — has been in place for over 20 years

Best Buy, Costco, Shoppers Drug Mart and Home Depot are among the long list of major retailers that participate in the voluntary program.

(left) Instagram user @sammar__ holding cleaning pods after shopping. (top right) A Shoppers Drug Mart storefront. (bottom right) A Best Buy storefront.
Amid inflation and high food prices, the Scanner Price Accuracy Code sure could come in handy when shopping. (Courtesy: @sammar__/Instagram, Getty Images)

A retail shopping “hack” that’s been in place for over 20 years has recently made its way onto social media, leading many to question if it actually works.

User @sammar___ posted a video about her experience scanning dishwashing tablets at a Walmart and in turn, learning about the Scanner Price Accuracy Code.

She explains that retailers are accountable for the price of an item that’s scanned in, and that if it comes up as more than the price is meant to be, on an item that’s under $10, the customer is entitled to get the "item for free."

So, when she scanned the tablets at the register, which were advertised as $9.97 down from $13, but came up as $13, she was told she could have the item for free. She goes on to explain that for items over $10, the customer is entitled to $10 off the actual sale price.

Some people in the comments were skeptical.

“Yea right they'll just adjust the price,” one wrote.

“Nah the associate didn’t know how to change the price,” another commenter wrote.

Martin Qiu, an Associate Professor of Marketing at Wilfrid Laurier University, says the Scanner Price Accuracy Code has been around since 2002, and is voluntary for retailers to opt into. The code is meant to ensure that the scanner price is accurate for consumers.

“Retailers who participate promise to honour that code,” he tells Yahoo News Canada.

As the social media user explained, and as the Retail Council of Canada confirms, “if the correct price of the product is $10 or less, the retailer will give the product to the customer free of charge. If the correct price of the product is higher than $10, the retailer will give the customer a discount of $10 off the corrected price.”

Qiu says retailers like Best Buy, Walmart Canada and Shoppers Drug Mart, which are some of the stores listed that voluntarily participate in the code, do so to be competitive. It’s similar to a price match guarantee, which many retailers also honour. This is when a retailer will match or beat a competitor's price if a customer has proof the item is cheaper elsewhere, like a flyer.

“Those guarantees are used to be competitive, to drive customers to the store,” he says.

Most retailers who don’t advertise these loopholes, but that doesn’t mean customers aren’t aware of them.

“They don’t want to make it very public because some people may take advantage of that,” says Qiu. “But if the customer knows, they’ll go ahead with their promise.”

Qiu points out that the code only goes one way — if the price is rung up as lower than the actual price, the customer will still have to pay the actual price.

List of retailers who currently participate in the Scanner Price Accuracy Code

  • Best Buy

  • Bulkley Valley Wholesale

  • Canadian Tire

  • Co-op Atlantic

  • Costco Wholesale Canada

  • Federated Co-operatives Limited

  • Giant Tiger Stores

  • The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company of Canada Limited

  • The Groupe Jean Coutu (NB and ON only)

  • The Harry Watson Group

  • The Home Depot Canada

  • Home Hardware (2 Ontario stores)

  • Lawton Drug Stores

  • Loblaw Companies Limited

  • London Drugs

  • Longos Brothers Fruit Markets

  • Lovell Drugs

  • Metro Inc.

  • Overwaitea Foods

  • Pharmasave (BC stores)

  • PriceSmart Foods

  • Rona

  • Safeway

  • Save-On-Foods

  • Shoppers Drug Mart

  • Sobeys

  • The North West Company

  • Thrifty Foods

  • Toys”R”Us

  • Urban Fare

  • Walmart Canada

  • IGA

  • Fresh St. Market

  • + 1374 Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers independent locations