Several customers of a Dallas-area grocery chain complained to NBC 5 about an “unexplained” 20 percent fee on their receipts.
When NBC 5 took those complaints to the store’s general manager. They told NBC 5 that customers have nothing to worry about.
Malone’s is a Dallas grocery store with four locations.
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Many customers contacted NBC 5 saying when they checked out, they noticed a big up-charge that they weren’t warned about before.
“It makes me feel used, yes it does,” said shopper Javier Villarreal, who moved to Dallas a few weeks ago.
Villarreal said he’d been shopping at Malone’s for weeks before even noticing the mark-up.
“This is a lower-income neighborhood, it’s a poor neighborhood. I think they’re taking advantage of people that don’t have as much money,” he said. “I feel like they’re taking advantage of me.”
NBC 5 took the issue to the company’s general manager, who says they hear complaints all the time from new Dallas residents.
“They confuse it with a tax. They come to the managers wondering why we’re charging them more than the price in the back,” said Jesse Salazar, who started working for the company decades ago as a teenage cashier.
Malone’s employs a “Cost Plus” model, meaning that customers see a listed price along the aisles, then they add a surcharge at checkout depending on how much a customer is spending.
“It’s not a trick, no. We try to explain it the best way we can,” Salazar said.
Salazar says there are signs posted around the stores, and on some of their advertisements.
“Every time we get new customers, yes, it’s pretty confusing. They complain. We do our best to try and make them understand the way it works,” he said.
When NBC 5 went back inside the store, we noticed several signs about the fee structure.
But they can be easy to miss if you’re not looking for them.
“Coming into the store, knowing what’s going on helps a lot,” said frequent shopper Hoyt Beck. “Because the price is listed as one thing in the aisle, and you do not notice any signs as you’re doing your shopping, and then all of a sudden at the register, you’re having to pay a lot more.”
The bigger the check-out cart, the smaller the surcharge.
A bill of $15 or less adds a 20 percent fee; $25 or less adds an 18 percent fee; $50 or less adds a 15 percent fee, etc.
If customers spend $150, or more the fee bottoms out at 10 percent.
The company says Hispanic immigrants, or new customers, sometimes feel cheated, but they shouldn’t.
“Our loyal customer base don’t complain. They like it, they’re used to it, they see savings,” Salazar said. “When you buy big groceries at Malone’s, you really see big savings.”
The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act is a law meant to protect consumers from being tricked into spending more for a transaction than they reasonable expected, but it may not apply here.
Because the supermarket accepts WIC, they’ve been investigated by the State Department of Agriculture, and Salazar says their marketing model always passes scrutiny.