by Hillary Patin

How to Price-Check Holiday Mega-Sales

Everyone loves a good deal. You might even be thinking about shopping on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, because you’d be silly to miss out on a good deal—right? Here’s how to make sure that what you’re buying is actually a good deal.
Woman using her laptop

Everyone loves a good deal. You might even be thinking about going shopping on the next Black Friday—or, you might skip the crowds and wait for Cyber Monday. Even if you don’t normally partake in either, it’s hard not to check prices online the weekend after Thanksgiving to see if that thing you’ve been thinking about buying anyway is on sale. Because it’d be a waste to miss out on a good deal—right?

When you score a good deal, you experience a flood of endorphins, thanks in part to the feelings of excitement and success gained by buying something for a fraction of the original list price. But what does the list price actually mean? And how does it play into our urgency to buy up large on sale days?

The false promise of list price

Unfortunately for us consumers, some retail stores have figured out a way to exploit the euphoric feelings we get when cashing in on a sale. Instead of lowering the sale price further, some retailers have been raising the list price, or the original listed price of the item. The bigger the gap between what an item “should cost” and what it actually “does cost,” the smarter and happier we consumers feel.

Fortunately, deceptive pricing schemes by retail giants have not gone unnoticed. In 2010, an online homewares store was sued for its misleading list prices, resulting in a $6.8 million fine for false advertising. One example provided by the judge involved a patio set that had a list price of $900, and a sale price of about half that. On other websites, the same patio set sold for less than the sale price on the offending website.

Does the list price actually mean anything?

It’s hard to know whether today’s list prices actually mean anything. In theory, you would think a list price would be the highest price you could see the product being sold for. After all, it’s only a good deal if someone else is selling the same thing for a higher price.

With the ease of buying things online, it’s possible that retailers are looking for something to set them apart from the rest. In the face of fierce competition, retailers want to appear to have the best deals around, whether or not it’s true.

Tips for shopping this Black Friday

Here are a few things that you can do to make sure you’re getting the best deal while not falling for potentially false list prices:

  1. Ignore list prices It’s easier said than done. Just remember: It’s not really a list price if you can’t find it selling for that price anywhere.

  2. Compare prices online Google Shopping is a good place to start, as they compare sale prices and consolidate reviews on specific items from different websites for you, all without showing the list price.

  3. Try browser extensions There are browser extensions you can add that will automatically apply the best coupon code at checkout on major retail websites. On online megasites with multiple vendors, these extensions can also seek out the lowest price, to save you digging around for the best deal.

All in all, remember that shopping during sale season requires a certain amount of healthy skepticism on the part of you, the consumer. Just like those emails from a long-lost Nigerian relative, or message requests from a potential overseas love interest, take online and in-store sales with a grain of salt. Do your homework, compare prices, and make sure you’re spending time, before you spend money.

Disclaimer: Hey! Welcome to our disclaimer. Here’s what you need to know to safely consume this blog post: Any outbound links in this post will take you away from Simple.com, to external sites in the wilds of the internet; neither Simple nor our partner banks, The Bancorp Bank and BBVA Compass, endorse any linked-to websites; and we didn’t pay/barter with/bribe anyone to appear in this post. And as much as we wish we could control the cost of things, any prices in this article are just estimates. Actual prices are up to retailers, manufacturers, and other people who’ve been granted magical powers over digits and dollar signs.