Beware of Sales that Aren't Really Sales
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Beware of Sales that Aren’t Really Sales

Posted on Monday, December 12th, 2016 at 7:00 am
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sales-signs-from-pixabayWe’ve all seen signs at department stores that alert customers to a sale. Often, those signs show the original price of the item – followed by its new, lower, sale price. This makes it look like people are getting a good deal. Often, the deal is real. But sometimes, the sales aren’t really sales at all.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has sued our retailers who have allegedly misled customers with pricing schemes that were designed to increase sales. In these four separate lawsuits, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer alleges that the retailer posted an original price that was not really the original price of the items that were now supposedly on sale.

Under California law, retailers are not permitted to advertise an alleged former price of an item unless the alleged former price was the prevailing market price within three months of the advertisement, or unless the date when the alleged former price did prevail is clearly, exactly, and conspicuously stated in the advertisement. The lawsuits allege that thousands of “sale” items were advertised at false reference points.

What does that look like? Here is a fictional example that will make things clear. A department store has a “sale” sign over a rack of t-shirts. It says that the t-shirts are now on sale for $15, and that the original price of the t-shirts was $35.

The problem, in this fictional example, is that the store never sold the t-shirts for that so-called original price. Instead, they have been selling those t-shirts for $15 all along. The fictional department store is intentionally misleading consumers by tricking them into thinking they are getting a good deal. As a result, the department store sells more of those t-shirts than they would have if they didn’t put a false sale sign on the t-shirt rack.

The lawsuits filed by Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer are specific to Los Angeles and to California law. It is possible that other states do not have a law like California’s law about sale prices.

What can you do to make sure a sale really is a sale? One way to do it is to pay attention to prices. The next time you see something you would like to buy – after it goes on sale – take a photo of the current price. Leave the photo in your phone. Check that photo later if the item goes on sale and compare sale sign to what the item was originally sold for.

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