Are Auchan France crooked or just lazy

Do you ever watch the supermarket till readout or check the receipt as you leave?

We probably check prices on both sides of the till more than average. We live on a tight budget. We’re also regular shoppers at Auchan.

If you were on a self-catering holiday in France in August 2014, or just needed to buy cold drinks for the beach, you probably shopped with an eye for a bargain. As you were loading up groceries at a busy till, though, you probably had more on your mind than checking the readout or skimming through the receipt. If you were shopping at Auchan, and especially at the Béziers hypermarket, this might have cost you a couple more euro than you expected.

Like supermarkets all over the world the French “grandes surfaces” cycle through different cut price offers every week. If there’s a cultural difference, it’s that they seem to offer a lot more deals based around buying in bulk.

In mid-August, in Auchan Béziers, we spotted a two-foot-high yellow board screaming a bargain price above a pallet of mega-packs of branded cola. We picked one up. When it beeped through the till, what flashed up on the LED screen didn’t look like it matched the in-store advertised price. The till receipt confirmed we’d been over-charged.

Refunds have to be done at the customer service “welcome” desk, which means a walk across the width of the shop from the tills. We had to go there anyway, so we kept the receipt handy and asked them to check the price.

After a bit of dramatic leafing through the junk-mail “prospectus” for the week’s bulk-buy bargains, our server agreed there’d been a mistake and gave us a cash refund.

There was no sign that she was inclined to report the error, or try to correct it. Auchan just took it on the chin that in one case they lost the 2.50 euro. We didn’t leave out of pocket, but we couldn’t help wondering how many holiday shoppers in more of a hurry had.

If this seems paranoid, it’s only because we know they’re out to get us.

We had a similar experience in the spring, but this time in the gardening department.

The Auchan junk-mail “prospectus” for the week showed deal on a window-box for flowers, or what the French call a “jardinière”. The price got better the more you were prepared to buy. The photograph showed the jardinière complete with water-tray and hooks for mounting on a balcony rail. It wasn’t urgent but we had room for a few more flowers and decided we’d buy the three that gave us one free, or whatever.

The key thing about this sort of deal is a “when it’s gone, it’s gone” element. We knew we’d need to get to the store fast.

It should have been a warning sign that the jardinière sets weren’t on open display so much as hidden under one the benches of house-plants. They had the right number in the right colour, though, so we picked them up and headed to the till. Where they inevitably came up at a wildly different price.

The girl at the till called the garden department, who were adamant that the price was correct. We knew the junk-mail said different, so we hauled the whole lot back to the customer “welcome” desk. We produced the advert. Another call to the garden department earned the same reply. The till read-out was the right price.

At this point another member of the welcome staff pulled a correction note from under a pile of paperwork hidden out of sight below the desk. In so many words, could they let customers know the price in the prospectus didn’t apply to the jardinière sets. It was a deal on the planter troughs alone.

Frustrated that, had this happened in England, we were sure the price would have been honoured, we left empty handed and wrote to Auchan’s MD to complain.

No one ever apologised or acknowledged that Auchan’s advertising was either at fault, or misleading.

We did eventually receive a letter from the Auchan Béziers garden department. They realised that as foreigners we had found the advertising material difficult to understand. If we brought the receipt back to the hypermarket, they would refund the difference.

I didn’t have the patience to try to explain, again, that we had left the store empty handed and that they couldn’t refund what we hadn’t spent.

And anyway, planting season was over.

The end-result, though, has been to keep a permanent close eye on the prices we’re charged by Auchan.

I can only suggest that you do the same. Maybe it’s not too late.

2.50 euro is 2.50 euro, after all.

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