The first thing some stores do is base their sales on inflated prices. ShopSmart found a coffeemaker "on sale" at Kohl's stores and Kohls.com for $61.99, a discount from the retailer's posted $69.99 "regular" price. It sounds like a great deal, offering you savings of $8. However, the manufacturer's suggested retail price was only $59.99. Just taking the time comparison shop, you could find the same coffeemaker for as low as $30.03.
Another tactic retailers use is inflating shipping and handling costs. They do this to compensate for the deals they're giving you on the item you want to buy. TV infomercial products are especially likely to do this. ShopSmart recently found an infomercial for a $19.99 Awesome Auger garden tool and "free" drill, weeder, and power extender. But when you get to the check out and the shipping and handling fees are figured in, you are looking at a bill for $56.80. Not exactly the great $19.99 deal you have been sold on.
If you've ever paid an advertised "bargain" price, you've likely paid way too much. This is especially true on items retailers will usually negotiate on, like cars, mattresses, and home appliances. A recent Consumer Reports survey found seven out of 10 people who tried negotiating for home appliances got a better deal, saving on average $100. Think of what an extra $100 could buy you.
And finally, don't rely on getting getting a great deal at liquidation sales. Most stores will actually charge more during liquidations. In 2009, during the Circuit City liquidation sale, ShopSmart found some prices that were much higher than those in the circular the retailer had planned to use had the company not gone bust. Circuit City was charging $270 for an HP computer printer at their liquidations, a printer they had intended to advertise for $150. Prices will usually decline as the liquidation sales progress, but there probably won't be much left that you'll want to buy.
Bottom line, shop around before you make a purchase. Compare identical items and factor in shipping and handling fees and any other charges. Also, don't forget to compare online and walk-in stores, even if they belong to the same retailer. Sometimes it's better to just go to the store instead of having it delivered.
For more tips on how to spot a bad deal and other consumer advice, please visit ShopSmartMag.org.
by Jenn Eaker