Grocery sales

THE government would be making a well-intentioned mistake if it were to drop the Federal Trade Commission's requirement that grocery stores must have all the items they advertise for sale. The FTC says it is thinking of revoking the rule, and has asked consumers for comment. The vast majority of supermarkets are scrupulously honest. Even if the rule were rescinded, they would try very hard to have plenty of advertised items on hand, if only in the interest of customer satisfaction.

But as in any business, there are a few who might try to take advantage of customers by advertising items they don't have, to try to lure consumers into the store. That problem existed before the FTC's 1971 adoption of the current rule; it wasted customers' time and sometimes resulted in their having to purchase more expensive items than they had anticipated.

A few stores that sell other types of merchandise, thus are not under similar FTC regulation, now occasionally practice such deception, selling anything from tables to china.

In the long run such practices are self-defeating as they lose consumer goodwill. In the short run they waste consumer time that is in such short supply nowadays, especially given the prevalence of households in which all adults work full time.

Those who favor dropping the FTC rule say that each consumer would save perhaps 2 cents a week if the rule were repealed because of the bookeeping and spoilage costs of forcing grocery stores to have plentiful supplies of all sale items. But that is the wrong yardstick. The more relevant question is what the practices of all markets would be if there were no rule.

Two cents a week is little enough to ensure that shoppers can have confidence, when they go to the supermarket, that it will have on the shelves what is listed in its newspaper ads. ----30--{et

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