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    Massachusetts Permits Elimination of Price Stickers

    Bay State shoppers may not find traditional tags on the products themselves.

    BOSTON -- New state regulations taking effect tomorrow in Massachusetts allow stores to stop stamping prices on most individual products as long as the stores install bar code scanners that not only let consumers check a price but print out a price sticker if they want one.

    Retailers say the new regulations will satisfy those consumers who want prices on their products while allowing stores to avoid the time-consuming and expensive task of stamping prices on most of their inventory, according to the Boston Globe.

    Many retailers, including Home Depot, Staples and CVS, said last week they were testing scanners and plan to start installing them over the coming weeks and months. Wal-Mart has already installed the machines in some of its stores, although many weren't working properly on a walk-through at the Quincy store last week, the Globe reported.

    The retailers all say the new regulations, which require one scanner every 5,000 square feet, will either save them money in labor costs or allow them to redeploy staff to other more important tasks. One manufacturer is charging $1,200 for its scanner/printers. "It's far less expensive than having an army of people in the stores doing nothing but pricing," said John Simley, a spokesman for Home Depot, who said price stickers are not important to most consumers.

    A Staples spokeswoman said the savings from using scanners will exceed the cost of the machines by the second year of operation. A CVS spokesman said installing scanners would be cost-effective, even though the drug chain is still subject to a separate state law covering food stores that requires price stickers on most individual food items.

    State Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, who never enforced the old item-pricing regulations, settled on this new approach after Dorchester resident Colman Herman began taking retailers to court for their noncompliance, and winning. Home Depot paid $3.8 million late last year to settle a class-action suit where Herman was the lead plaintiff.

    A Reilly spokeswoman declined to say how aggressively the new regulations would be enforced. She noted retailers are required to conduct self-audits to verify compliance, although the regulations indicate the self-audits are only encouraged as a defense against class-action suits.

    Consumer advocates who have battled Reilly as he sought to scale back the state's item-pricing regulations say the new rules are a setback for consumers. Whether they know it or not, the advocates say, consumers will now find it much more difficult to compare prices and guard against overcharges at checkout.

    "We are going to be transformed into unpaid stock clerks, forced to lug products around the store to those stickering gizmos," said Edgar Dworsky, editor of Consumerworld.org. "Time-pressed consumers won't buy it because of the inconvenience, and they will be less informed about prices and less protected against overcharges. What kind of consumer protection is that? Consumer laws are supposed to protect the masses, not just the motivated," the newspaper reported.

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