For hardcore shoppers, there may be no bigger buzz than the deep discount. But a new report out this week by Checkbook.org suggested some special prices at major retailers aren’t so special and alleged a pattern of deceptive pricing tactics at three national chains.
"They’re marking their merchandise with these steep discounts -- 30, 40 percent off," Checkbook.org Executive Editor Kevin Brasler told NBC Chicago. "[They're] making their shoppers think that, 'Oh, this is on sale. There’s some urgency here. I better buy this today.'"
But how special are those special prices? Checkbook.org took on the question by using mystery shoppers in stores and online to track prices on specific products each week for 44 consecutive weeks. What they say found is that in many cases the sale prices were the normal prices.
"If it's always on sale, if your special price isn't special, if that's the price you always charge, then I think you are deceiving your customers," Brasler said.
Checkbook.org accused three major retailers -- Sears, Macy’s and Kohls -- of consistently posting "special" prices and discounts that rarely, or never, revert back to a higher price.
Federal Trade Commission regulations, as well as some state laws, prohibit pricing policies that lure consumers into thinking they are getting a good deal when they are not. Both Sears and Macy’s denied using deceptive pricing practices.
"Sears disagrees with any suggestion that its pricing is misleading or deceptive," a company spokesperson said in a statement. "Sears is focused on providing its members with great prices on a wide variety of products and services," adding that it "complies with applicable pricing and advertising laws."
"... as a multi-channel, leading integrated retailer we are uniquely positioned to provide discounts to our members and customers in a number of different, legally compliant ways, including things like member pricing, store or online only promotions, clearance offers, and offers from third-party marketplace sellers," the statement said. "It is unfortunate that Checkbook.org did not appear to take these factors into account before making its assumptions."
Macy's, in a statement, said pricing varies for each item, "based on the nature and seasonality of the merchandise, its family of business and customer response, among other things. Some items rarely go on sale prior to final clearance; others go on sale more frequently as part of promotional events."
The company said it strives to comply with all laws and regulations, "which generally allow for flexibility in connection with price promotions to allow retailers to respond to business trends. If a pricing error is brought to our attention, we act quickly to correct it."
Kohl's did not respond to a request for comment.