mouseprint: fine print of advertising
Go to Homepage

Subscribe to free weekly newsletter

Mouse Print*
is a service of
Consumer World
Follow us both on Twitter:

Updated every Monday!   Subscribe to free weekly newsletter.

November 19, 2007

Sears: The Price is (Down) Right (Confusing)

Filed under: Business,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 7:19 am

Please Help Support Mouse Print*

Edgar Dworsky For 25 years, Consumer World, the creator of Mouse Print*, has served readers with the latest consumer news, money-saving tips, and independent investigations. It is your generosity (and not advertising nor corporate contributions) that keeps Mouse Print* and Consumer World available as free consumer resources. So MrConsumer turns to you and humbly asks for your support again this year. Your gift will be most appreciated.

Once upon a time retailers advertised the price one had to pay to purchase goods on sale. Today, in the spirit of this self-service economy we live in, you now have to figure out the price yourself.

Here is an ad for a five hour “doorbuster” sale at Sears last Saturday. [Click it for a larger view.]  What price do you pay?

Sears Sony small  

The price you see, $1899.99, is not the price you pay because for once the small print contains good news. The fine print says “save $800”. So does that mean you actually pay $1099.99?

*MOUSE PRINT: The additional fine print says “after $300 price drop and before $500 instant savings. So, doing the math, the real price is $1899.99 minus $500 = $1399.99, ignoring the $300 price drop that is already figured into the $1899.99 large type displayed price.

Is $1399.99 the real price?  According to the Sears website, it is not.

sears sony web

The web ad seems to say the price is arrived at by subtracting both $300 and $500 from the $1899 price, bringing the selling price down to $1099.

In fact, both on the web and in the store, their checkout system rings up $1399.99 for this Sony TV. The web price was an error. However, that’s not the end of it. If you decline the financing, it appears that you qualify for a 10% rebate when you use your Sears credit card. (See last paragraph of the ad’s fine print.)

But the 10% applies for “home theater purchases over $799”. Is this a “home theater” purchase?  It certainly is part of a “home theater” purchase. It is promoted right within the borders of the TV itself. And it does not say with purchase of a “home theater package”, which would imply multiple items had to purchased.

Who knows, then, what the final price of this TV is?

Why do stores, not just Sears, make their pricing so confusing?  There are a number of reasons, including the fact that Sony is believed to be a manufacturer that requires its retailers not to advertise a price below a certain number established for each product (“minimum advertised prices”). That forces retailers to advertise “non-prices” leaving the math to you.

Also, in a couple of states, when an “after rebate price” is advertised, the product must be sold by the retailer at that price (and the store has to worry about getting the rebate money from the manufacturer). So, to avoid that hassle, you will often only see before rebate prices.

The bottomline is that this is confusing to customers (and store personnel), who often will overlook a good sale because they cannot easily discern what the right price is.

P.S. To their credit, some Sears stores have honored the erroneous web price of $1099 for some customers.

Share this story:

• • •


  1. I hate confusing sale signs and apt not to buy at all as I feel that it’s some kind of “come on” to cheat, defraud or confuse me as to how much I am paying for a product; I can not do comparison shopping with sale signs such as that.

    I had a similar thing happen when I went to a LENOX outlet store. They had some statues on sale that had red discount stickers on the box (along with it’s regular price), a sign saying 50% off and another sign declaring a certain amount of dollars off. Well, I thought, exactly how much is this statue going to cost me? Not only was I confused but the clerk was as confused as well. Only by putting it through the computer could we find out the bottom line price of that statue.

    It turned out well as the 99.00 statue ended up being 19.99 but what a way to figure out a price!

    Comment by J.Lee — November 19, 2007 @ 10:01 am
  2. @ J. Lee: often the prices are a cheat.

    The biggest cheats are rebates though. Not only becausse most people don’t get them (be it largely due to their own laziness, but that’s another problem), but also because you NEVER get the rebate you are promised. The trick is that you have to pay sales tax over the rebate.

    Also, all these prices confuse sellers too. When I bought my laptop @ CompUSA, I discovered AFTER paying they did not apply an ‘instant savings’ they advertized in-store. It took me an hour to get my $100 (+plus tax) back. First, I had to convince the store manager that he promised me an in-store savings, for which he kept checking their advertisement folder, which mentionned a different price. Only after I (more or less) physically dragged him back into the store with the ‘instand savinds’ sticker, he believed me. Then he ordered some clerk to give me back my money, but then the clerk did not understand that I wanted my sales tax back too. And when he figured that out, he couldn’t figure out how to calculate 4.5% on $100. That’s when I started talking at an embarrassingly loud voice.

    Anyway, time for some simple legislation that forces merchants to clearly spell out the FINAL price a customer pays. Yes, that would include all fees, (sur)charges, taxes, rebates, instant savings etc etc.

    Comment by Jasper — November 19, 2007 @ 10:29 am
  3. If the store personel can’t even figure the price correctly, I think they need to re-think their pricing structure. Selling things to consumers at a good price shouldn’t be this difficult! All this leads me to believe as a consumer is that retailers are now using the same tactics used car dealers used to use. So, how ironic that more and more car dealerships are going to no haggle prices.

    Comment by shawn — November 19, 2007 @ 10:51 am
  4. Businesses like to bang the ‘free market’ drum, but rely on the government to whistle a different tune. It is amazing how law-makers will create the laws that allow manufactures to create artificially high prices.

    Maybe you’ve noticed how the price of DVD movies typically decline over time. You don’t see the same thing with music Cd’s. The reason is that the government allowed CD publishers to set a minimum price that a CD can be sold for, which is around $11.99. Of course you can find a few Cd’s below that price, but you’ll notice that they are always marked as the publisher’s super saver label.

    The idea was that companies were going to have to invest in an new industry and by price fixing they would be able to recoup their investment. Even though it has been over 20 years the laws are still in place and Cd’s continue to be overpriced. It’s no wonder that the music industry is perplexed with Internet downloads. Although it is not exactly a free market model, it does provide an end run around some of the music industry’s price fixing model.

    Comment by Richard B. — November 19, 2007 @ 12:00 pm
  5. A real good example of not advertising the final price of a product/service are cellular phone companies. If all of the fees, taxes, and surcharges were included in the final price, it would be at least an extra $10 per line of service. Granted an argument can be made that regular in-store products aren’t advertised with the tax involved but cellular phone service is clearly different. It’s taxed at a different rate and there are other charges you won’t find associated with goods.

    Comment by richardz — November 19, 2007 @ 12:50 pm
  6. I just bought this Sony at Sears on Saturday during the Doorbuster Sale. My price ended up being $1249.99. They said they arrived at that price by subtracting $500 from $1899 and then by declining the 0% financing offer, I qualified for an immediate $150 rebate (don’t have to send anything in–it was taken off at the time of purchase). I still think my price should have been $949 because that was how the ad reads, but they employees really couldn’t do much since that’s not the way the tv rung up. Any others pay different prices out there? Even if there ad was a typo, shouldn’t they be responsible to following through with it?

    Comment by Kari Petersen — November 19, 2007 @ 4:41 pm
  7. As I understand it, with my rudimentary legal knowledge, an add does not technically constitute an “offer”. Therefore, contract law does not apply and the store is really under no obligation to sell that product to you for the “advertised” price. An “offer” is not made until you walk into the store and say that you are willing to pay X dollars for whatever product.

    Again, I am not a lawyer, and I had a contracts course in college many, many moons ago, so I could be completely wrong.

    Then again, by being so vague and convoluted, the retailer is avoiding the issue all together, becuase it is so difficult to determine what the actual advertised price is supposed to be.

    Comment by shawn — November 19, 2007 @ 5:26 pm
  8. @ shawn: not to forget that most ads are riddles with fine (/mouse) print, usually to be summarized as: “You may get all kinds of favorable impressions from this ads, but we don’t really mean it, and think it’s perfectly ok to change the prices offered here at any time it pleases us.”

    Comment by Jasper — November 20, 2007 @ 7:57 am
  9. Car sales have been doing the same thing for years. You must qualify for numerous programs or customer offers to get a car for the price they show in an advertisement. I even had one saleman tell me that the offer listed was only available at that price for people who have never owned that particular brand and since I was a current owner of that make I would have to pay $2000 more. How’s that for customer appreciation and loyalty?

    Comment by Tom S — November 20, 2007 @ 10:59 am
  10. I can see the frustration with Sears not advertising the lowest possible price, but I think this is a bit different from the general bait-and-switch concerns on Mouse Print. The big print said $1899, and the customers actually paid a lot less. That’s a step in the right direction, isn’t it?

    FWIW I bought $270 of tools on Black Friday for $115 plus tax. Would have been $105 if I took one of the extra $10-off-50 coupons that were laying around and rang up the second half of my order with it. All American made, great quality stuff, and the manager herself opened a register to help deal with the lines. I’m not affiliated with Sears, but I’m also not easy to please and I have to say it was better than I thought it would be.

    Comment by Charles — November 30, 2007 @ 1:52 pm
  11. Why anyone still shops at Sears is beyond me. Lousy service and overpriced merchandise everywhere.

    Comment by Sam — April 22, 2008 @ 9:23 pm
  12. Sears Sucks, this is another practical scam by the retailer.

    Comment by werty — May 26, 2008 @ 4:25 pm

Comments RSS

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by: WordPressPrivacy Policy
Mouse Print exposes the strings and catches buried in the fine print of advertising.
Copyright © 2006-2020. All rights reserved. Advertisements are copyrighted by their respective owners.