Carrefour, Wal-Mart charged

09:24, January 27, 2011      

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Carrefour and Wal-Mart outlets in cities such as Shanghai, Chongqing and Shenyang were found to have engaged in pricing fraud, including fabricating the purported original prices. Photo:Google

French retailer Carrefour was quick to switch damage-control mode Wednesday, apologizing and pledging compensation for shoppers who had been fooled by price manipulation at its Chinese outlets - a charge published online the same day.

Wal-Mart, however, stayed mum on charges that it had done the same, saying instead that inspection teams would monitor prices.

The responses came shortly after China's top economic planning agency issued an online notice blaming the two retail giants for misleading consumers with wrong or ambiguous price tags, resulting in overcharging at more than a dozen of their outlets across the nation.

The statement, published by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), was widely seen as the latest move to tame rising inflationary pressure.

Carrefour and Wal-Mart outlets in cities such as Shanghai, Chongqing and Shenyang were found to have engaged in pricing fraud, including fabricating the purported original prices, luring customers with low prices on product labels but overcharging when shoppers checked out, exaggerating discounts on their advertisements and double-price labeling that confused consumers about the actual cost of the products, according to the NDRC.

The case may also indicate the level of competition in the booming retail industry in China, where foreign competitors are pushed to such malpractices in their bids to grab larger market shares, analysts said.

In an e-mailed statement to the Global Times Wednesday, Carrefour said it would pay customers five times the shelf price of products that they were charged more for at checkout counters.

The retailer also promised to send investigators to oversee pricing in its outlets.

Stopping short of admitting fault, a Wal-Mart spokesman named Jiang Wei, at the retailer's China HQ, said in an e-mail to the Global Times that the company "always attaches great importance to the pricing issue and has sent more than 700 pricing inspectors to its outlets, will enhance its supervision ahead of the Chinese lunar new year and will deal with pricing loopholes seriously."

The stores could be fined five times the income from illegal practices, or up to 500,000 yuan ($75,500) if there was no illegal gain or the gain cannot be calculated, according to the notice from the NDRC.

A total of 11 Carrefour outlets in Chinese cities, including Shanghai, Wuhan, Changchun and Kunming, as well as three Wal-Mart stores in Shenyang, Chongqing and Nanning, were charged with malpractice and listed in the notice.

Guo Yong, 27, who shopped Wednesday at a Carrefour outlet in Beijing, noted that it is difficult for consumers to discover deceptive pricing.

"I seldom review receipts carefully, especially when I purchase a shopping cart full of goods. Besides, for those discounted goods, how do we know that the original price tagged hasn't just been jacked up?" Guo said.

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