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Learn When The Sale Price Is 'Really' A Sale

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - We've all seen the ads urging you to "buy now", and "you'll never see prices this low again". But, how often is that really true? CBS 11 Investigators went undercover inside North Texas stores, and after you learn what we uncovered, you'll never shop sales the same way again.

CBS 11 watched the prices of jewelry, electronics, and clothes for two months, checking and rechecking the prices. In many cases we found that you may think you're getting a great deal, but in reality, you may not be.

CBS 11 randomly selected several items from sales ads in a Sunday newspaper and spent months following the prices of those items at Zales Jewelers, Fry's Electronics, the clothing store Justice, and Macy's.

At Macy's, we found men's Izod shirts tagged with a regular price of $44. But, for seven weeks, we watched them go from $24.99, to $21.99, to $19.99 - always on sale - never finding them listed at the full regular price.

According to a Macy's spokesperson, we found this because this seasonal item is in clearance. Across the store, we found the same story with a Caphalon Unison cookware set which showed a regular price of $699. But, in the two months we watched it, it was always on sale for $599. Macy's disagrees, though, and reported the set "has been offered at both regular and sale prices" during that time.

At last check, we found the Caphalon set at $699, but a sales representative told us it would be back on sale the upcoming weekend.

Click here to read Macy's full statement.

At Zales, pieces from the Shared Heart jewelry collection stayed on sale for at least seven weeks, and even the sales representatives couldn't say when the sale might end. A spokesperson for the jewelry store chain told CBS 11 the collection went off sale April 21, however, specific items are being offered at a 'clearance price'. We were also offered comparable discounts every time we visited the store even after the sale ended.

Click here to read the full statement from Zales.

"If a brand is always on sale, do you have the right to call it a sale?", SMU marketing professor Daniel Howard questioned. "Once you see how retailers operate, you will never look at sales the same again," said Howard, who's been tracking advertising tactics for nearly three decades. "This is just point-blank dishonest to the consumer."

According to the Federal Trade Commission, products should be sold at their regular prices before going on sale for a "reasonably substantial period of time". But, even the FTC could not say what the reasonably substantial period of time actually is.

According to retail expert Ed Fox it's left up to the stores to interpret."The amazing variety of different products that are sold at retail makes it hard to have a single standard that apply to an iPhone and apply to a bag of flour," Fox said.

Our experts say the marketing tactics we encountered are more common on items like jewelry -- that is bought less often, so consumers are less likely to keep track of prices. Howard says to be watchful when purchasing bedding, furniture, and electronics.

At Fry's Electronics, we found an advertisement for a printer regularly priced at $299, on sale for $224.99. After the sale ended, though, the price moved to $224 - $.99 less than the original sale price - for at least another week. A Fry's spokesperson says that "would have been due to an inadvertent error to update the price". The price did eventually return to $299.

Click here to read Fry's Electronics full statement.

"The regular price is the regular price, and it shouldn't change week to week," Fox said.

CBS 11 also found stores that seemed to offer everything on sale most of the time. At Justice For Girls, the entire store was 40% off about 80% of the time we watched. And, if the sale isn't on, special offers usually make the same deal available to frequent shoppers.

Justice For Girls didn't return our repeated calls for comment on our story.

Sale Sign
A '75% Off' sign is seen in a store window. (credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

CBS 11 learned that no one seems to be regulating retailers when it comes to sales. Mark Stanley, an attorney for Dallas-based Stanley & Iola, agrees. But, he and his partners have filed class action lawsuits against retailers including one right now against Big 5 Sporting Goods for false advertising.

"If the FTC has guidelines, and the state has laws, why aren't these pursued?", asked CBS 11's Ginger Allen. "If there's no cop regulating this, then people are just going to go ahead and mark everything as a sale price and mislead people to think they're getting a good deal," answered Stanley.

Bottom line, our experts say before shopping a sale, check the regular price against the sale price to make sure you're really getting a good deal.

"Yes, I understand what they're doing," Ed Fox said. "But, if they want you to come back and they want you to be a customer, they shouldn't be doing those things."

So, what can shoppers do to help make sure the sale they're attracted to is really a sale? Daniel Howard says pay attention to the prices. Ask questions like 'What is the original price?' and 'How often is it sold at that price?', and 'How often is it on sale?'. If the sale has recently ended, ask for the sales price anyway. We learned, in some instances, you may still be able to take advantage of it.

Experts also recommend making friends with sales representatives. We found that many of them will give you hints and secrets about when it's best to buy.


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