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More Than You Bargained For: See How Discounters Arrive At Comparison Prices

LOS ANGELES ( — Shoppers in search of a deal know that feeling when you see a tag and find the store's price is much lower than the comparison price.

The comparison price is what discount retailers claim you could pay elsewhere, but a class-action lawsuit filed in California claims the "compare prices" printed on T.J. Maxx tags are deceptive advertising. In many cases, according to court documents, customers won't see at those compare prices anywhere else.

CBS2 took a hidden camera into a T.J. Maxx in Culver City to ask employees how the store arrived at the "Compare At" price on several items.

A Betsy Johnson purse selling for $39.99 had an original manufacturer's price tag still hanging on it for $108, but the compare price was only listed as $78.

When asked why, a clerk said, "Some do have the original price. I wonder if this one does. Yeah, $108."

"So why do they say $78 instead of $108?" a member of the CBS2 investigative team asked.

"I have no idea why it says $78. They should have did $108," the clerk said.

"How confusing!" the CBS2 teammember said.

"It is very confusing," the employee said.

CBS2 found more confusion in the luggage department. An employee affirmed a bag was priced at $79.99.

When CBS2 pointed out what seemed to be the original tag showing the luggage once sold at $160, the clerk had no idea why that price wasn't listed instead.

This concerns Rigo Reyes, who works as chief of investigations at the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs.

"When I walk into a store and I see the comparison price, I want to feel like I'm getting a really good deal," Reyes said. "It is very important that those prices are true and accurate and not misleading."

T.J. Maxx admits online that the compare prices are "simply the staff's estimate."

It's because of that statement and what we found in store that leads Reyes to believe that the lawsuit against T.J. Maxx is "pretty strong. The lawsuit is saying that they simply make up those numbers."

If unsure about the savings on an item, Reyes recommends scanning the item's barcode with a scanning app that can be downloaded on a smartphone. That way, shoppers will instantly discover if they're getting the best price.

Reyes said: "The whole point here is that consumers want to make a decision based on true, clear information."

A T.J. Maxx spokesperson issued the following statement to CBS2:

"At T.J. Maxx, we are committed to delivering exceptional value to our customers every day. It is the foundation of our business. We tell our customers what we mean by 'compare at' prices, both through signage in our stores as well as language on our T.J. Maxx website. Transparency is important to us, and integrity is ingrained in our culture. Beyond that, we do not comment on pending litigation."

You can find information on how T.J. Maxx determines their "compare at" pricing here.

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