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January 27, 2020

Caution: You Could Get Overcharged on Some Advertised Sale Items at Staples .com

Filed under: Business,Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:09 am

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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.

If you’re not careful, you may wind up paying the regular price for an item rather than the sale price when shopping on the website.

Here is a chair that was advertised last week in both their physical circular as well as the online version.

Staples chair

When clicking this item in the online circular, a box comes up with the $149 price showing, and a button to add it to one’s cart.

Chair - add to cart

If you click that button, the item is confirmed to be added to the cart at the sale price. But then something unsettling happens on the next screen.


In the cart, the chair jumps back up to the full regular price — $100 higher than advertised. If you were only buying a single item, the overcharge would be easy to spot. But if you were buying many things and had no idea what the order should total, you could easily overpay.

We asked the PR folks at Staples what’s going on here — why aren’t customers always being given the advertised sale price when shopping on the website particularly if using their clickable online circular? Despite multiple requests, the company did not respond, but lo and behold soon after receiving our initial email, that chair magically became an “in-store only” item at the advertised price.

If the company is relying on the blurry, microscopic online general disclaimer below [that we highlighted] saying that prices can vary on the phone and online, they better check state rules that require exceptions to prices and availability to be disclosed specifically as well as clearly and conspicuously, among other requirements.



Unfortunately for customers, the chair example above is not an isolated case. In all, while the price of most test items we tried did not change, we found half a dozen sale items from last week’s online circular with substantial discounts (shown under the green “ad price” below) that all jumped up to regular price when added to our cart. And none of these was specifically listed as in-store only prices or items.


cart with five items

We don’t know why this is happening. While we don’t think Staples has a grand plot to misrepresent sale prices, this does not appear to be just a one-time problem. This week (the week of January 26) it took no more than two minutes to find an advertised sale item in Staples’ print and online circular that jumped up in price when added to the cart for in-store pickup. This time, however, the price in the cart was even higher than their regular price, triggering what appeared to be a $13 overcharge.


Thumb Dirve at Staples

We are turning over our findings to the Consumer Protection Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office with the hope that they will open an investigation into these advertising practices. We have no illusions, however, that the AG will do anything about it despite the fact that Staples is headquartered in Massachusetts and many people could experience overcharges. Nine months ago, we alerted them to widespread misleading savings claims being made by, another Massachusetts-based company, but they seemingly have done nothing. These everyday pocketbook issues are important, affect thousands of consumers, and represent alleged violations of the AG’s own regulations.

In the meantime, shoppers have to protect themselves. Be sure to double-check the price you are actually going to be charged when you add any sale items to your cart at

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  1. Shady Staples Shady…

    Comment by richard Ginn — January 27, 2020 @ 9:29 am
  2. That was easy

    Comment by David Bookbinder — January 27, 2020 @ 2:41 pm
  3. What exactly does the Consumer office of the AG really do for consumers? Once in a while someone there goes public with something that gets them news but they don’t appear to bother with the mundane stuff actually affecting the average consumer.

    Comment by Chet — January 27, 2020 @ 6:36 pm
  4. I had dealings with Mass. AG office a couple of years ago & can attest to the fact that the consumer doesn’t mean anything to them. I used to play games at a site (Gamesville) that was/is based in Massachusetts. Over the years I won a few dollars, no big deal but one day I ‘won’ their monthly contest for $500.00, never received the money. Wrote them & kept getting the runaround. Contacted their ‘owner’ Lycos, still nothing. I finally contacted the AG & documented everything. I finally received a letter dated January 14, 2016, saying that they had forwarded my complaint to a ‘Local Consumer Program’, Cambridge Consumer’s Council. They also stated that my complaint would be ‘heard’ in the order received! That was the last thing I ever heard from anyone, still haven’t received my $500.00!

    Comment by Gert — January 28, 2020 @ 7:17 pm
  5. In a similar vein, I often see items on Amazon listed as “used starting from $X.XX,” but when you click to see those, that “starting from” price is nowhere to be seen. This is getting more and more prevalent on the site, too.

    Comment by Lana — January 29, 2020 @ 4:50 pm
  6. It appears that those items with higher prices, for some reason, defaulted to delivery when placed in the cart vs. being picked up in store. Did you click the radio button to move them to store pickup and did that change the price back to the advertised price?

    Edgar replies: Josh… it made no difference whether the item was selected for pickup or delivery. I tested it both ways.

    Comment by Joshua Vollendorf — February 2, 2020 @ 9:10 am

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