Store Shopping: Feels Like Theft

Store scams trick and cheat shoppers at the checkout.
Retail outlets scamming consumers with mean tactics.

It was another great sale and I was running a purchase through the clothing department checkout of a large retail chain store. "That item is not on sale", I was informed. This sounded familiar; anyway I needed this, paid the regular price and left.

A few months later I was at the same till with a 'discounted' package of socks and was again told that it was not on sale, it was another brand. Beginning to get a little wiser, finally, I returned to the display with the socks to study the situation. Several brands were mixed in a prominent display which loudly shouted 40% OFF at the top. Small words indicated the brand name that was on sale but that product was not prominent in the display, and it was not what I was holding.

As I was putting the package back I heard a man at the checkout, "but the sign says . . ."

The methods are creative with bright signs and small print like, "Does not apply to items with prices ending in .96 or .99", brand xyz excluded. Then off to the side a smaller notice; "when purchased with our store charge card."

How common is deceptive in-store marketing?
On becoming more concerned about the increasingly deceitful treatment of shoppers I began to pay more attention to ads and store displays, carefully studying the words. Often with an advertised sales event the messages were difficult to understand, purposely to entrap the buyer I concluded. On one of my tours through a mens clothing department sales event I heard a senior clerk explaining to a junior how a particular item was not on sale.

Obfuscation: the concealment of intended meaning in communication, making communication confusing, intentionally ambiguous, and more difficult to interpret. - Wikipedia

As I later wandered through the department store's shoe department an elderly lady and store clerk were looking at a sign 7 feet above which listed the runners that were included. The clerk was trying to explain to the nice little old gal why she was not holding a bargain.

"Our computer must not have been updated."
I'm amazed how this has suddenly become so popular in my shopping experience lately. The regimen goes like this: On the store shelf is an item at 30% OFF but at the checkout it rings up full price. Perhaps some people do not pay attention to the cost, while others just swallow it and go on their way donating a few dollars to the store.

Again, when this began to sound familiar to me I started paying close attention. The routine played out twice at a one national department store's branch and twice at their other outlet. I did get the displayed sale price but when I complained and I notified them that there was no excuse for this to happen with any frequency. I was told that they were probably just busy and forgot to update the computer.

Note: As I was winding up this article I revisited this store to pick up a few things including a 6-pack of Scotties Tissues reg: $6.99 for $5. You guessed it, $6.99 on my receipt list. I returned for an adjustment and the familiar response; "The computer... and this on the last day of the sale!

Supermarkets are in on the tricks and traps game where the advertised produce may be way back in the corner and a very similar product is in-your-face as you enter the store. There was a big special last Christmas on certain turkeys but they were difficult to pinpoint. As the regular price rung up I told them to take it back and that their efforts were devious. The other sneaky display routines are widely used in some supermarkets that I do not frequent anymore.

Catching consumers at the checkout is just one of many varied ways merchandisers can cheat customers out of their hard earned money. It's shrewd, unethical and fairly easy to get away with. Most buyers aren't looking for scams or might feel embarrassed about making an issue of the pricing if they are not sure.


Grampa Ken - Author of 32 Keys About Life and social issues blogger at Social-Fix.

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