Hobby Lobby, Who Exactly Are You Trying To Fool?

by Paul Michael on 4 April 2011 22 comments

Anyone who reads Wise Bread regularly knows that I love a deal. I’m a deal hound — I sniff them out and save a lot of money every year. (See also: Get a Deal Every Time You Shop)

So, when I was strolling through a local Hobby Lobby today looking for a new sketch pad and some empty boxes, I happened upon this sign:

Wow, 90% off home accents, including pillows. Sweet! Our current pillows have begun to fray and have definitely seen better days. This was serendipitous. I abandoned my search for a sketch pad in favor of some pillow hunting instead.

With most accent pillows being between $20 and $40, I figured I would find something that suited our home for between $2–$4. Hey, maybe less if they had originally been $10-$15, like the ones Target often sells. The plethora of pillows that greeted me was great. I knew I’d find something.

Within a minute, I had found several that I liked. I picked up one, checked the price tag, and felt my jaw drop to the cold floor. After I picked it up, I checked the price again.

Here’s the cause of my nasty surprise:

  

Yes, you read that right. These pillows had an “original price” of between $90 and $120! Did I walk into the wrong store? Was I actually in an upscale boutique in New York.

No, I was in the clearance aisle of a Hobby Lobby in Colorado.

What was the explanation?

Well, perhaps the pillows were made of exotic fabrics, hand-woven by monks who ate only elderberries. A peek at the label showed that the exotic fabrics included polyester, rayon, and sometimes, cotton.

Maybe the brand was something I had never heard of. One that stands for very high quality. Borgata. Sounds pretty fancy. I did a web search and found plenty of Borgata pillows at prices ranging from $30-$55. Most were around $40.

I have to ask myself, were these pillows ever sold for the original price? Did they even get close to it? Or was this some ploy to bring people into the clearance aisle to grab pillows, only to give them sticker shock and have a good laugh. I would have asked a store clerk, but it was lunch time and the only two that were around were dealing with lines 6-people deep. No one had any pillows by the way.

I’m not saying $9-$12 is a lot to pay for a pillow. Not at all — it’s decent. That’s not the point. It’s the whole “90% OFF” thing that bothers me. Look again, and you'll notice the full sign reads "90% Off Our Everyday Low Prices." Really? $120 for a throw pillow is an everyday low price? Maybe for the Sultan of Brunei, but for an average family on an average income, it's not even in the same ballpark.

It’s almost a bait and switch, because people have a good idea of what pillows cost, and what 90% off that price is. If I said “90% off cappuccinos!” and then you discovered that my sale prices were $2-$4, you'd feel cheated. And rightly so. 90% off cappuccinos would mean 50 cents, tops (unless you're usually buying $18-$36 coffees, in which case, seek help immediately).

Is Hobby Lobby just blissfully unaware of how insane the original prices are for very ordinary pillows? Are they fooling anyone? And have you had similar experiences of vastly inflated prices to keep the sales prices high? Please, share your stories.

Additional photo credit: All other images by Paul Michael
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Guest's picture
Jason

Wow! I'm really interested if someone from Hobby Lobby is going to reach out to you about this article to try and smooth things over. That is ridiculous.

Guest's picture
Lori

Use to work there,glad I left

Brooke Kaelin's picture

I see this every day when I look for the daily deals here - it's such a common tactic it's awful. The best way to be sure you are getting a great deal online is to price check similar items on Amazon or Walmart, or use a "shop and compare" type search on Google.

This is a great article, and really highlights an issue you don't hear much about.

I had to stop shopping at Hobby Lobby myself - it isn't just the pillows that are too pricey. The whole store is that way. Once in a while I can find a good deal, but most of the time I can get the same quality (or better) online for less money, with free shipping! Needless to say, Hobby Lobby doesn't ever get featured in the daily deals!

Guest's picture
Guest

I totally agree! Who do they think they are fooling? Other repeat offenders are Macy's and Kohls - so many "sales" that you wonder why anyone would pay the original sticker price.

Brooke Kaelin's picture

Kohl's whole tactic of "Save even more when you use your credit card" makes me sick. Sure...knock off an additional 15% for people - people that are possibly going to overspend and carry a balance and pay 22% interest on that store card....

That is not savings...

Guest's picture
Bev

I would wonder if this is really a corporate Hobby Lobby policy, or if this store has a store director that's making questionable decisions. Sometimes with this stuff it's hard to know where the decision making and control really lie. Either way, it's sure not a good way to treat your customers and like you said, they're really not fooling anybody. It would be interesting if someone from Hobby Lobby would see this article and give their comments.

Guest's picture
Guest

Actually, I was just at a Hobby Lobby in Indiana this weekend (I didn't see this article until today). I saw the same clearance signs and the same insane "Original Prices".

Guest's picture
Guest

I work for hobby lobby and our wonderful buyers pick this high priced product for us to sell needless to say that it were it ends up in the clearance area. Most of our home accents are way over priced reason for most our 50% off sales. Oh and do not forget our 40% off coupons.

Guest's picture
Lori

It's Hobby Lobby policy

Guest's picture
Guest

As a clearance shopper, I see this all the time. What it always comes down to when shopping is: KNOW YOUR PRICES!

Guest's picture
Mandy

Great point! The other thing I get really sick of is when something is always "40% off regular price!" I see this not only at Hobby Lobby, but at JoAnn, Michael's (both arts and crafts stores) as well as department stores like Khols. It drives me crazy!

Guest's picture

In the UK there are laws about this - an item has to have been on sale at the full price stated on the ticket for a certain amount of time, before a store is allowed to make claims like that.

Guest's picture
Jeff

Almost all online sales operate with the same tactic. The "regular price" has never been the acutal price of the product, it's just to make you think it's an isanely great deal.

Guest's picture
lampman

the regular price at hb is always double the suggested retail price. so even if it is 50 percent off it is still not on sale.

Guest's picture
Guest from CA

Maybe Oprah is helping them set their prices. I fondly remember watching her supposed first-ever shopping trip to Target years ago, and her being totally amazed that you can buy nice, trendy throw pillows for $10-15 (as opposed to whatever her designer charges her).

Guest's picture
Guest

This is outrageous! They must think we're all idiots!

Guest's picture
felix

I take it you haven't actually paid a visit to Hobby Lobby in say, ever, before this trip? I used to work there in the 90s and they ask rather extraordinarily high prices for loads of things, and but for several reasons and regularly customers plainly know they're high and continue shopping there because of other reasons.

People rarely buy them at the regular price, and they have sales for practically a third of the entire store every week. If what you want isn't on sale now, it probably will be within a month. Getting mad about high prices just means you've either never shopped there or are so unfamiliar with the practices there that it all just seems absurd. They get so much business that a losing a few customers who whine about prices is not a genuine loss.

Also, LOADS of their customers aren't just your regular Joe or Jane consumer, but are tax-free business buyers and professional decorators who can work out with the manager for discounts. When I was there, the prices weren't exactly fixed and trackable -- you'll notice there are no bar code scanners at the register -- the employees type the price into the register and a generic ticket prints up on company ticker tape.

Hobby Lobby is quite the atypical mass retailer because their inventory re-ordering system is still done on paper print-outs by mostly non-specialists using pencils marking down how many to guess that they should buy, which you can easily see any of the department heads doing in plain sight during the earlier hours.

I'm sure Hobby Lobby is totally aware of how high their prices are, and they're not trying to nor can really fool any of their regular customers. They do buy from pretty exotic sources, though.. very few made-in-China, but instead rarer places like Turkey or Bhutan or something.

After having worked there, and still being a regular shopper there myself even a decade afterward, I didn't find anything in this post surprising or weird. You just gotta know what you're looking at. All prices, in every store, everywhere, are imaginary. They're some variable over what they paid for them, and that's the buying-and-selling trade -- you just gotta figure out the patterns each store uses in their markups, which are different for each company.

Guest's picture
Candice

I'd say that if you aren't getting mad at their inflated prices, you've just become so accustomed to seeing unethical practices you don't even pay attention anymore.

Additionally, most fabrics sold in the US come from Italy or other Mediterranean countries. So Turkey isn't rare or exotic at all; Bhutan (which isn't Mediterranean, of course) only slightly more so.

Guest's picture
Guest

Obviously Hobby Lobby inflates their prices in order to have great-sounding "sales." With all their clamoring about Jesus, you'd think they might try being a little less crooked.

Guest's picture
Catie

This was hilarious, loved it!
They've been using this tactic for years. I'm in Kansas City and see it on the Missouri and Kansas side.

Guest's picture
Guest

And they're a "Christian" store

Guest's picture
Lori

The reason Hobby Lobby's prices are high is because not one item is made in the U.S. All of the items are made in China, India & Mexico. Hobby Lobby has a manufacturing plant in China. Most everything is made there and then shipped to the corporate office in Oklahoma. So that is why those pillows were $89.99 or higher. And the reason they are 90% off is because no one will buy them at the original price, customers would rather purchase them @Target or Wal mart or Home Goods