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When Is A Sale Not A Sale? When An Item Never Goes To Full Price, Expert Says

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Some retailers use compelling copy to lure shoppers. (CBS)

Some retailers use compelling copy to lure shoppers. (CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – We love to shop, but most of us won’t buy unless it’s on sale. So when retailers offer us the biggest, one-day-only, best bargains ever, we bite.

Saving money off the original price is the definition of a sale, but when CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker spent eight weeks checking prices at 10 stores, she made an interesting discovery.

In half of the stores, most of the products CBS 2 tracked were never full price on the days they were checked.

An example: A comforter at JC Penney’s supposedly has a regular price of $200. But a clerk said the comforter had never been sold at the $200 price level.

“It came in at the sale price,” the clerk said.

CBS 2 watched a coffee maker at Carson’s. The sign said full price is $145, but CBS 2 never saw it on sale for more than $99.

Other items that always seemed to be at the sale price: a patio set at Target, furniture and men’s pants at JC Penney’s,  handbags and young men’s shirts at Kohl’s.

In some cases, like Helix shirts at Kohl’s, the 40-percent-off price was advertised as a one-day-only sale. But every Friday for eight weeks CBS 2 found them at the same price.

At Macy’s, CBS 2 twice found a one-day-only sale on Calphalon. But the cookware was at the same sale price during six other Fridays.  

DePaul University’s Daniel Strunk, who has 35 years of marketing experience, says such “sales” violate the federal guidelines that are supposed to protect consumers from deceptive pricing. There are also state rules covering sale pricing.

“It’s unfair because the consumer never has an opportunity to understand the value for that product,” says Strunk, an executive in residence.

The best recourse for consumers, according to Strunk, is to check prices at a manufacturer’s website before you buy.

CBS 2 asked the stores for comment, and Macy’s provided examples of several dates over the last eight weeks when the cookware did sell for the regular price.

Target also provided dates in the early part of the year when the patio set sold for full price.

Kohl’s says it makes every effort to provide customers with compelling values.

JC Penney says it is inaccurate to call its pricing unfair in any way.

All the stores, including Carsons, say they follow legal and ethical guidelines for sale pricing.

Below are unedited responses from the retailers featured in Dorothy Tucker’s report.

Target

Target is dedicated to offering exceptional prices on items throughout our stores and delivers on our “Expect More. Pay Less.” brand promise. When it comes to paying less, we know that value means more than just price. It’s a combination of quality, design and affordability. We recognize, however, that price continues to be a critical importance in our guests’ shopping decision. Target is committed to accurate pricing. We constantly strive to ensure price accuracy and have processes in place to ensure our systems are reflecting the appropriate prices for our guests.

JC Penney

For over 100 years ago, we have operated our company using the same ethical business principles incorporated by our founder, James Cash Penney. We have evaluated the observations that WBBM/CBS 2 reportedly made during its jcpenney shopping visits and have determined that our pricing was in compliance with federal guidelines. We disagree with its “experts’” opinion that jcpenney’s pricing was “unfair” to our customers in any way. In fact, we believe it is inaccurate and unfair to the more than half of America’s families who shop jcpenney each year for WBBM/CBS 2 to insinuate otherwise.

As a national department store that sells merchandise in more than 1,100 stores across the U.S. and online at jcp.com, customers can rest assured that jcpenney remains America’s favorite shopping destination for discovering great style at compelling prices.

 

Kohl’s (Vicki Shamion, Kohl’s senior vice president of public and community relations)

Thank you for contacting Kohl’s directly. Kohl’s makes every effort to provide its customers with compelling values. The company recognizes the importance of truthful and accurate advertising and adheres to a strict Code of Ethics. Kohl’s marketing is very promotional in nature, and we remain committed to promoting our merchandise in ways that bring the best total value to our customers.

Macy’s

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. Note that “clearance” refers to items that have been discontinued  and stay on sale until they are sold or removed from our stores.

Seasonal items such as swimwear and cover-ups generally start on the sales floor at regular price, then are included in a variety of sale events before being marked down for clearance. In the specific case of the Jantzen, Dotti and Raviya swimwear and coverups you cited, the merchandise arrived in our Chicago stores in the November/December period and was offered almost exclusively at full price until the promotional/clearance process began in mid-May. The point at which the markdowns begin is driven by the rate of sales and climate zone. In Chicago, we currently are nearing the end of the selling season for swimsuits.

The Calphalon Unison cookware set you identified has been on and off sale at various times over the past two months and has been offered at both regular and sale prices. In this timeframe, for example, the cookware set was offered at regular price of $699.99 on May 23, May 24, May 31, June 1, June 6, June 7, June 20, June 21, July 5, July 6, July 11, July 12, July 13, July 14, July 18 and July 19.  Unfortunately, our associate gave you incorrect information that “Calphalon is always on sale except for Monday and Tuesday.” Some of our home sales run Wednesday through Sunday, but that is not always the case. You will note that the cookware set was offered at full price on various days.

On occasion, we do offer a “pre-sale” when a customer can purchase an item in advance for an upcoming sale price, although the customer cannot pick up the item until the sale begins.

Macy’s prides itself on offering interesting merchandise which provides great value to the customer. We strive to be in full compliance with all laws and regulations. If a pricing error is brought to our attention, we act quickly to correct it.

Carson Pirie Scott

Bon-Ton is well aware of the legal requirements for advertising a sale price.  To this point, we have an “Advertising and Price Compliance Policy” that sets out the standards for compliance with applicable federal and state laws.   Recently, the Company augmented this policy with a new computerized system, which will be fully operational very shortly, to assist merchants in tracking sales and regular pricing to ensure compliance with legal requirements.  

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