4 Ways to Spot and Avoid a Fake Sale

Retailers these days have gotten very good at tricking you into thinking you're getting a great deal, even when you aren't. Whether it's through words they use to trick your brain into thinking an item is a screaming deal, or the promotional techniques they employ to get you to open your wallets, it's important to be on the lookout. Here are some of the most used techniques along with some ways to fight back.

1. Words, Words, Everywhere Words

As consumers, it's important to realize that retailers hire psychologists to choose the words they place on signs in their stores. It could be as simple as "Limited Time Offer" or "Expiring Soon" to the more subtle "New Low Price." All of these words and phrases are chosen to trick your brain into opening your wallet. In many cases, the price of a "Limited Time Offer" is the same price the item has been for months, and the "New Low Price" is simply the introductory price of a product.

To avoid this trick, totally ignore the words you see in stores and instead let the numbers tell the story. By numbers, I mean the actual price of the item. If it's a store you shop at regularly, you'll probably be able to easily tell if the price is actually a sale price. But for the majority of us, we have no idea if the price is a good deal. Use a smartphone app like ShopSavvy to quickly scan the item's barcode and check the price at online stores as well as brick and mortar stores in your local area. By doing a quick price check, you let the facts steer your buying decision and not the words retailers use to separate you from your hard-earned money.

2. Avoid "Open the Wallet" Pricing

The next time you walk into a big-box retailer, take a second to notice the elaborate displays found near the front of the store. Often the products are highly-discounted and very appealing to the eye and tend to draw shoppers in. These displays are perfect examples of "Open the Wallet" pricing, which is a trick to get shoppers excited about saving money in the hopes they buy a bunch stuff they don't need and had no intention of buying in the first place. After all, since you saved a bunch of money on these strategically priced items, you now have more money to spend on other stuff, right? Wrong.

Walmart, Target, Old Navy, and Macy's are a few of the retailers famous for employing this strategy. By being aware of what stores are trying to do, you can shop with blinders on and walk past these "Open the Wallet" displays and stay focused on the reason you walked into the store in the first place.

3. When a Coupon Won't Save You Money

Often retailers will raise the price of their products to full-retail right before releasing a coupon to the general public. This trick essentially makes the coupon worthless. For example, a storewide sale they had last weekend will often give you the same savings as using the coupon when prices are high. Eddie Bauer, Ann Taylor, Gap, American Eagle, and Lands' End are a few of the more popular retailers known to employ this trick. The one thing to avoid is failing to use a coupon when prices are at regular-price, as you'll end up spending way more than you should.

Another aspect of this trick is "High-Low" pricing, which is when retailers have relatively high everyday prices, then regularly lower their prices via coupons and sales events. In actuality, they know they'll sell very little at full-retail, and at the same time, they give consumers the perception that they're scoring a great deal by issuing coupons and limited time discounts. So in essence, the sale price becomes the everyday price and shoppers need to keep this in mind when price comparing. JCPenney, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Kohl's are some of the stores who use this trick to make you think you're saving money.

4. Be Aware of Decoy Pricing Schemes

Have you ever shopped for running shoes and noticed the uber expensive models that stores often place in the front displays? I'm talking about running shoes in the $125 to $175 range. This is not by accident, as these expensive models make the more reasonably-priced athletic shoes look like a real bargain. This is known as "decoy pricing" and is also done at jewelry stores, with Apple products on display in the Apple Store, and HDTVs at Best Buy.

For example, the $3,000 4K HDTV in the front display at Best Buy makes the $750 no-frills, but still high-quality, Samsung model look like a steal. In actuality, Best Buy knows they won't sell many of the $3,000 models, and they're cool with it because it makes all the other models look like a better deal. After all, the more reasonably-priced models are their bread-and-butter and what they depend on selling in droves to stay profitable. By knowing what retailers are trying to do, you can focus solely on the products in your price range and find the best value that fits your budget. In other words, ignore the bright and shiny objects that you can't afford and focus only on what you can.

How do you avoid falling for the tricks stores use to separate you from your money?

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