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Don’t be a Sucker; Avoid These Five Tricky Pricing Gimmicks

Posted In:  News and Opinion

Think it's buy one, get one? Don't jump so quickly. It's probably buy one, get one half off. This is just one trick retailers use. Whether we like it or not, bargain hunting requires that we stop and pay attention. Some of us enjoy bargain hunting; some don’t. Whichever category we fall into, we need to be aware that retailers employ a laundry list of tricks in order to get us to spend more. Here are some gimmicks to watch out for and how they work.

Dangling the Bait

Retail establishments want to get you in their stores any way they can. They may offer free items or deeply discounted items called “loss leaders” that may lose them money; their aim is to lure you into their stores and then get you to buy pricier items once inside. Another version is the "up-sell". Customers are enticed into a store for one product and end up being sold a more profitable one. Unexpected purchase add-ons, such as warranties, are high-profit products. The retailer knows that the odds are in their favor that the customer will never exercise the warranty. Alternatively, they may offer a fantastic deal on an item that is in short supply, hoping you’ll buy something else when you find it’s out of stock.

Discount tricks

Retailers may offer good deals, but still manage to get you to buy more than you otherwise would. For example, get 10 for $10. Many people think they have to buy 10 items to get the great deal, so even though they really only need 2 or 3, they buy all 10. The deal usually still works even if you only buy 1 or 2, though many consumers don’t realize this. Another variation is offering, for example, $10 off a $50 purchase. Often you have to spend extra to get up to the $50 limit. Or they may offer a gift card for spending a certain amount. Again, not only do you sometimes have to spend extra to qualify, often the amount of the gift card is so small that you will have to add your own funds to get what you want. Please refer to each states' specific laws on advertising.


As in real estate, it’s all about location. Stores love to put the popular items in a place where you have to walk past and be tempted by higher-profit items. There’s a reason bread is not in the checkout lane. Remember that higher-profit items are usually placed at eye-level while lower-profit items are placed lower on the shelves. Checkout lines are notorious places for higher-profit items; sure, that $1.70 cold soda seems cheap, but not when you realize you can buy three times the amount of soda at half the price if you just walk a few extra steps and buy a 2-liter bottle instead.

Number tricks

Retailers know we’re lazy when it comes to math and numbers. We assume bigger sizes mean better deals, but that’s not always true. Have a calculator handy so you can check for yourself. Another ploy is using prices ending in 9, 99 or 95. When we see $7.99, we’re conditioned to see $7.00 rather than $8.00, and we feel like we’re getting a bargain.


Retailers place limits on quantities, believing if we think the product is scarce, we will buy more. The going-out-of-business sale is another form of pressure; if you think your opportunity is limited, you may jump on the sale quicker than you would otherwise. This particular gimmick has been so abused that some states are enacting laws to limit liquidation sales.

It’s the nature of business to make a profit, but you don’t want to be the one to pay. Be aware of their tricks, keeping in mind that there are many variations. Remember: It’s not usually a good deal if you end up spending more than you intended.

Cheryl Johnson is a part-time writer who loves to help others save money. If you are interested in having Cheryl write for you, find her at under Cheryl24.



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