NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - Ever look really closely at a price tag?
You see a symbol here and a letter there...a number ending in a "9" or a sale price ending in "7."
These symbols and cents are gibberish to most of us. But the CBS 11 I-Team has learned these are actually hidden symbols that could help you crack the code to big savings.
The I-team visited five North Texas stores. We watched prices and made note of sales for more than a month.
Consumer guru Kyle James, of Rather-be-shopping.com, pointed out the tricks of the trade for us.
"Is it full price?" James asked. "Is it a discontinued price? Is it going to go any cheaper?"
Here's what we learned.
At Sam's Club, look for anything with a one-cent on the end of the price.
A Sam's Club employee in Dallas told us, "Anything with a one-cent in the building means it's been discontinued. If you see a one-cent on the end, that means we're selling it far below the price we paid for it," the worker said.
Also, look closely at the price tag above or below the product. You will see a letter following the item number. This should help tell you when to buy. We're told a "C" means the item is discontinued. An "A" means the time is active.
And an "N" means Sam's Club will never run out. "We're always going to carry it. We've got tons and tons, like all the water and sodas," said an employee looking at an "N" on a price tag.
At Target department stores, it's the number in the right hand corner of the clearance tags that you need to watch. That is the percentage off the original price. The tags pile up on top of each other on the items, and the prices keep going down.
We asked an employee how she knew shoes, already marked down 50 percent, would drop even lower. "They'll go one more lower. They'll go one more time. Usually most of them go to 70 (percent)," she said.
Store employees say it's common to see the tags go from 15- or 30-percent off to 50-percent and then to 70-percent discounts. If you see plenty of clearance items you're looking for in stock, you should wait to buy. Chances are, they will be marked down again.
We watched it happen with women's shoes and bathing suits. They were marked 30-percent off one week and 50-percent off the following week.
If you shop at Kohl's Department Stores, you probably see the red sales signs everywhere. When do you pull the trigger to get the best price? An employee at a Dallas Kohl's store told us, "If it says 'great value,' it's temporary. Either for today only or two days maximum." He said you need to buy the "great value" items right when you see them.
Another employee told us, "If you see 'great value, you should buy then."
Both employees told us the regular "sales" usually last longer than the "great value." We watched "sale" signs on dishes that were marked 50-percent off stay there for a month. The "great value" signs did seem to change more often.
Savings at Sears Department stores seem simple. Prices ending in 97-cents are typically the first markdown. But an employee tells CBS 11 to watch for the tags ending in 88-cents. He says that's the corporate discount and it won't go any lower.
"There are going to be management people at these stores that are not going to be particularly happy with the public disclosure of this info," says Dan Howard, marketing professor at Southern Methodist University. Howard says the retailers have no obligation to let us know when an item will be taken off the shelf or marked down. And, he says, they would really rather we never crack the codes and find out.
"Once consumers get access to all the information and codes that management uses to arrange a store, there's too many fingers in the pudding."
In a phone interview, a vice president from Costco confirmed that "most" of the information the I-Team was given about price codes was accurate. But he added that he was hesitant to reveal all their internal pricing codes, saying there are some "exceptions" to the discoveries we made.
In a statement sent to the I-Team, Target said "we use a number of different factors to determine the price for an item. The ending digit of a clearance price is determined by several factors, including the original retail price and the applied percentage discount. It is not possible to determine the final markdown or timing of the price change from the item's current price."
The Director of Public Relations at Sears Holdings Corporation sent us this statement:
"Thank you for reaching out regarding your story, however we do not comment on our pricing strategies."
And the director of corporate communications for Sam's Club sent us this statement:
"We aren't able to confirm our pricing strategies, apologies. I'm curious, if you'd even share, who you received the information you have from. Thanks!"
No one from Kohl's responded to our request for a statement or interview.
(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)
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