Last week, I thought I had found a great deal on 12-packs of 7-Up and A & W root beer ($2 each) but my total grocery bill seemed high, and when I checked my receipt at home, I found I had paid $3.99 for each case of soda. When I remembered looking at the price tag, I realized that it must have read, “Save $2.00” (with the $2.00 in the biggest lettering), not just “$2.00.” I never would have considered buying the soda for $3.99, and I would probably have left the store laughing if I had realized they considered $5.99 a regular price. (Around here, I can find a 12-pack of soda for $3.00 almost any time; I consider $2.25 a good sale price.)
I had fallen victim to one of the many tricks stores use to make buyers think they are saving money when they really are paying a typical retail price or even more. In this case, the trick was emphasizing the price off in big letters and minimizing the actual (not so good) “sale” price.
Here are ten more store tricks to watch out for:
Putting some items “on sale” all the time: A sign reading “SALE” draws buyers, but it might really mean “for sale,” not “on sale.” When I lived in a resort area a decade ago, one store always had a “Going Out of Business Sale” banner hanging over its door. I’m sure its owners believed no one would know that the date for the store to close permanently was not actually set, as nearly all its customers were people who were in the area for only a week or two.
Handpicking comparisons to other stores: You probably have seen grocery stores displaying identical full shopping carts of products with signs comparing their total price for the products to a competitor’s price. The message is that you can save more money on an entire trip to that store instead of the other one, but the deception reveals itself when all the stores display these carts and they can’t all have the best prices overall. Stores fill carts with specific items they offer for less than their competitors; each shopper has to figure out which store really has the best prices for the items he or she buys most frequently.
Offering Buy One, Get One Free specials at twice the price: I hate circulars that advertise buy one, get one free items without saying how much customers have to pay for the one they’re buying. They might simply be offering twice as much as I want for double what I want to pay. Incidentally, I also hate to see ads that read, “Buy One, Get One”? I sure hope I will get one if I buy one!
Advertising a “special”? that is special for something other than its price: For example, a restaurant special may be special only because it appears in a separate part of the menu under the word “Special”? We use the word “special”? to mean so many different things that it’s almost meaningless. In some cases, it simply means “featured”?
Charging more per unit for bigger sizes: We have come to expect that bigger sizes are “economy”? sizes and that we pay less per item or per ounce when we buy the bigger box. Though this assumption is often true, stores sometimes take advantage of frugal shoppers’ habits and charge more per unit for the bigger boxes. Be sure to check unit prices when looking for the best bargain.
Comparing different units: Even when you read unit prices on store tags, you have to be careful. A store might give you the per-ounce price on one product and the per-pint price on a similar one. If your store uses this trick, bring along a pocket calculator (and maybe a measurement conversion chart) to calculate the per-unit price.
Charging as much or more for the store brand: Stores also know that buyers assume their store brands will cost less than the national brands. If you want to get the best price, be sure to actually check the prices and not simply grab the store brand out of habit. National brands can sometimes be less expensive, especially when they are on sale or if you have a coupon.
Announcing “lower prices”? for shrunken packages: Bargain shoppers have been reporting more and more instances of manufacturers putting a smaller amount of their products in similar packaging (14 ounces instead of 16, for example). When package sizes change, stores will sometimes advertise the lower price without pointing out that buyers are getting less for their money.
Using fine print: Stores sometimes use a big sign announcing a sale (particularly a percentage off or other non-specific price) on a particular product, but the sale is only good on certain sizes or varieties. Be sure to read all the details before adding a “sale” item to your cart.
Offering a low price guarantee… with a catch: Stores often guarantee that their prices will be the lowest, but in order to get the low price, you have to bring in a printed advertised price from a competing store. As not all prices are advertised in print, you aren’t truly guaranteed the best price on everything in the store. Another way around the guarantee is that the store has all its own models of products so that, even if you find a similar model for a lower price elsewhere, it’s not exactly the same and therefore does not qualify for the low-price guarantee.
Even the savviest shoppers can fall for some of these clever marketing ploys. I’m sure I have been caught more times than I realize. Incidentally, when I discovered that I had paid $7.98 for two 12-packs of soda for which I had expected to pay $4.00, I returned them. I was angry that I had fallen for the store’s trick, angry enough that I won’t be as likely to shop at that store in the future.
Image courtesy of 09traveler