Attorney General Schwalb Issues Consumer Alert & Business Advisory on Price Transparency Requirements

Alerts Aim to Inform DC Consumers of Their Right to Clear Information About Prices, Help Businesses Comply with the Law

WASHINGTON, DC – Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb today issued the below Consumer Alert informing District residents of their right to clear information about prices before they make a purchase in the District of Columbia.  

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) also issued a Business Advisory to District retailers to help them comply with price transparency requirements.

CONSUMER ALERT: You Have the Right to Know the Price

This holiday shopping season, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is reminding District residents that they have a right to clear information about prices for retail items before they make a purchase.

Consumers have raised concerns about a lack of transparent and consistent pricing for retail items at some District businesses. Consumers have also raised concerns about some shopping experiences where an item’s price is not clearly displayed before the time of purchase.

Under DC law, consumers have a right to know how much retail items cost before they get to the cash register. Businesses must make the prices for retail items accurate and easy to understand. And all consumers should be treated fairly and equally and should not be surprised or taken advantage of at the checkout counter.

Businesses Are Required to Clearly Display Prices Up Front

When shopping in DC, you should know that:

  • Prices must be displayed either directly on an item for sale or close by the item for sale. 
  • Businesses must display prices clearly and consistently.
  • Businesses must list prices in dollars and cents.
  • Businesses must set prices in advance, not make up prices at the time of purchase.
  • Advertised prices should match prices at the register—the price of an item should not change when you check out.

Consumer Resources — Get Free Help!

If you have concerns about retail pricing practices at District businesses—or if you have any other consumer concern—you can contact OAG’s Consumer Protection Hotline:

For complaints that involve businesses that use electronic scanners, scales, or other measurement devices, you can also file a business complaint with the D.C. Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection (DLCP), Office of Weights and Measures, at:

More Information on DC Laws Related to Pricing

The District's Consumer Protection Procedures Act gives District consumers the right to complete, accurate, and timely information whenever they purchase goods or services. The law prohibits a business from taking advantage of consumers. For example, a business cannot:

  • Make misleading claims about products or services;
  • Make misleading claims or false statements about the price of an item for sale;
  • Fail to disclose prices and other important information; or
  • Use ambiguous or vague language that tends to mislead a consumer.

Businesses that use electronic scanners, scales, or other measurement devices generally must also follow the District’s Unit Pricing Requirements laws. These laws are enforced by DLCP, Office of Weights and Measures. The District’s Unit Pricing Requirements laws apply to every business that sells, offers, or displays for sale a consumer commodity at retail, which includes any food, drug, cosmetic, or other article, product, or item that is typically sold at retail for personal or household use or consumption. There are specific rules about how an item’s unit price must be displayed before the time of purchase.

For businesses that must follow the District’s Unit Pricing Requirement laws:

  • Prices must be on a sticker, stamp, sign, label, or tag attached to the item itself or to the shelf where the item is displayed.
  • If a price sign is not attached to the item, the sign must be displayed clearly and in a non-deceptive manner. The sign must be in a central location as close as possible to all items it refers to.
  • If one sign is used to show prices for multiple brands or sizes, the sign must also include the identity and the brand name of the item and the total price.
  • If items are packaged together, the quantity of the package must also be shown.