NEW YORK - Stores are always advertising sales, but are they really offering you a great deal? A nearly year-long investigation has found potentially disturbing pricing policies at more than a dozen national retailers.
Checkbook Magazine found that too often, sale prices aren't offering you special savings at all. Instead, they're creating a bogus sense of urgency to buy.
Stephanie Patterson is one shopper who found an unwelcome surprise after looking at little more closely at a pair of earrings. They had a yellow clearance tag with a price of $128.
"And I said, 'Geez, I wonder how much the earrings were originally?'" Patterson said. "So I peeled the sticker back and lo and behold, they were priced at $98."
Yes, the original price was $30 less than the advertised clearance price.
"I feel deceived," Patterson said. "I feel as though I was being taken advantage of."
But this is apparently just one kind of bogus bargain.
Over the course of 10 months, Checkbook Magazine's undercover shoppers tracked prices of select items available for at least five weeks at 19 major retailers. They found in most cases, the advertised sale price was actually the routine price, the one the store charged more than half the time.
And when you see "buy one, get one half off" sale, you might be inclined to buy the product right then and there.
"You're worried, because if I come back next week, the price will be higher," Checkbook Magazine executive editor Kevin Brasler said. "It could be that you have a lower price next week."
At Kmart, Brasler said toy sales are not always what they seem.
"Kmart wants you to think you're saving money by buying it on sale," he said. "The problem is they never, in our test, charge the regular price for it."
According to Checkbook Magazine, the worst offenders are JC Penney, Kmart, Kohl's, Macy's, Neiman Marcus and Sears. Brasler said they tracked a knife set at Kohl's for 44 weeks and found it was on sale for almost every week.
Those stores were followed by Banana Republic, Best Buy, Bloomingdales, Gap, Home Depot, Lowe's, Nordstrom, Office Depot/OfficeMax, and Walmart.
"It's for sure misleading," Brasler said. "They're just manipulating you into buying now, feeling good about your purchase, so you'll make a bunch of purchases while you're there."
President's Day is are coming up, so will the sales be even better? Brasler says no.
"Even the Black Friday sales we looked at, the offers weren't any better than any other week," Brasler said.
The Federal Trade Commission has a pricing rule, but Checkbook Magazine believes these practices deserve a closer look and consumers have to be smart shoppers.
"Don't be induced to buy that item because it's on sale," Brasler said. "Buy what you need when you need it and don't be in a rush."
Also, shop around and ask for a price match. Checkbook Magazine said its testers often found so-called sale items were being sold for less elsewhere.
So at which stores did they find sales prices do offer special savings? Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and Costco.
For more information about Checkbook Magazine's investigation, and what they specifically found at each retailer, visit Checkbook.org.
As for the retailers named as the worst offenders, they said they stand by their sale policies, with many saying their sales comply with applicable pricing and advertising laws. They believe the test failed to consider things like everyday low pricing, price-match guarantees and member pricing.
Here are the statements from the retailers named the worst offenders:
"Sears disagrees with any suggestion that its pricing is misleading or deceptive. Sears is focused on providing its members with great prices on a wide variety of products and services. We do not publicly discuss the details of our pricing strategy, however we can confirm that Sears complies with applicable pricing and advertising laws. While we cannot speak to other retailers' pricing behavior, as a multi-channel, leading integrated retailer we are uniquely positioned to provide discounts to our members and customers in a number of different, legally compliant ways, including things like member pricing, Your Way to Save, store or online only promotions, clearance offers, and offers from third-party marketplace sellers. It is unfortunate that Checkbook.org did not appear to take these factors into account before making its assumptions."
"We disagree with the study because it appears they may have counted our "everyday low price" and "new lower price" items, or seasonal and clearance markdowns. In fact, we rarely have sales because we're an everyday low price retailer and also price match."
"At Macy's, our pricing cadence varies for each item, based on the nature and seasonality of the merchandise, its family of business, and customer response. Some items rarely go on sale prior to clearance; others, particularly seasonal fashion items, go on sale more frequently as part of promotional or clearance events."
"We strive to offer customers the best value at competitive prices in the marketplace. To give customers increased confidence in their purchase decisions, we offer everyday low prices as well as a price-match guarantee."
SHARE YOUR STORY
Do you have an issue with a company that you haven't been able to resolve? If so, 7 On Your Side wants to help you!
Send us your questions, issues, and story ideas to Nina by filling out the form above, by emailing 7OnYourSideNina@abc.com, or contact Nina on her Facebook page or tweet her at Twitter @7OnYourSideNY! You can also call the 7 On Your Side Hotline at 917-260-7697.
If using the app, click here to send us a news tip