Everyone likes a sale and likes to think they’re getting a good deal. Retailers know that and some of them have been caught inflating the list prices to make sale prices look better than they really are. So far at least the courts are siding with retailers, ruling that type of deceptive advertising doesn’t do any harm. Consumers might disagree and the government may yet have the last word on the practice.
The practice of retailers using inflated list prices to make consumers think they’re getting a better deal than they are is widespread and all it takes is a few minutes shopping around online to find instances of retailers using widely different list prices. Most often the perpetual sale price finger points at Sears, Kohl’s and Macy’s. So far the courts have ruled that the practice doesn’t result in harm. If that’s the case, why have laws about deceptive advertising at all?
There Are Rules
There are rules about advertising prices stating that the list price has to reflect the price an item was advertised at for a substantial amount of time. What it doesn’t say is how long “substantial” really is and retailers have been driving the price truck through that loophole. Some states have started cracking down on list price follies, including California, which passed tougher laws that give retailers less wiggle room when it comes to advertised list prices.
Kohl’s Gets Sued
Kohl’s got sued for deceptive discounts and the court agreed that the bar for misrepresentation and causation had been met but threw the case out anyway, claiming the plaintiff couldn’t prove economic injury. Nordstrom Rack had a deceptive price case dismissed for the same reason and that case is under appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. The idea that a company could be guilty of false advertising and get the case thrown out due to an impossibly high standard of harm, is pretty much useless for consumers.
Proving The Case
Researchers at Consumers’ Checkbook tracked the price of six to ten items at a number of retailers including at Best Buy, Costco, Home Depot, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Sears and Target. The worst offenders were Sears, Kohl’s and Macy’s. Of the three only Sears and Macy’s responded to a Komo News request for comment.
Fighting back starts with comparison shopping and being skeptical of any claim that an item is half off. When you go shopping, keep in mind the worst offenders list when it comes to phony sales and practice avoidance. Be cautious relying on price comparison websites or apps as many have been exposed as advertising sites.
The good news is now you can ignore sale prices and buy only what you need, when you need it. You can be skeptical of sale claims and use a spreadsheet to track the prices of things you really need or want over time. Then, when a real deal comes along, you’ll be prepared.
Come on, we all kind of felt like sale prices weren’t all that good of a deal lately so this should not be a surprise to the frugal shopper. Don’t be a sucker and hang on to your money.