Don't be taken in by fake sales

Hobby Lobby case shows why something 'on sale' isn't always a good deal

Published: June 26, 2014 04:45 PM

Some retailers try to attract customers by making them think they’re getting a deal on mostly anything they buy. That’s why there are so many sales that seem to running all the time. And some actually are, in violation of consumer laws.

For instance, in a recent settlement with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby agreed to change it advertising practices, contribute $138,600 in supplies to nearly 700 upstate New York public schools, and pay $85,000 in civil penalties and other costs.

In an investigation that started in 2013, Schneiderman said his office found that the chain advertised 30 percent and 50 percent off its custom framing, furniture, and home decor products for more than 52 consecutive weeks, in violation of the state’s law against false advertising.

 “Ultimately, a permanent sale is no sale at all,” said Attorney General Schneiderman said in a prepared statement.

In its Guides Against Deceptive Pricing, the Federal Trade Commission says that in making comparisons between discounted and regular prices, the regular prices should be based on “the actual, bona fide price at which the article was offered to the public on a regular basis for a reasonably substantial period of time.”

Unfortunately, shoppers repeatedly have sent retailers the message that the sales work. When JCPenney adopted an everyday low price strategy in 2012, customers decided to shop elsewhere, which led to the ouster of the retailer’s chief executive.

What to do

Don’t be misled by the sea of sale signs on view at many retailers. Just because something's on sale doesn’t necessarily mean anything. For instance, in past shopping trips to Kohl’s, we saw “sale” items priced as high as or higher than the manufacturer’s suggested list price. In one case, a set of T-Fal cookware marked down from $199.99 to $159.99 was still $10 more than T-Fal’s list price and $32 more than we would have paid on So comparison-shop, starting with a web search and the product name and model.

Anthony Giorgianni

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