3 On Your Side: Kohl’s Sticker Shock

By Jim Donovan

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Think you got a great deal on a sale item? Depending on where you shop, you may want to think again. As 3 On Your Side consumer reporter Jim Donovan finds at one big chain, if you look closely enough, you may be left with sticker shock.

It seems every time you turn around, Kohl’s is having a sale.

“I think they have great sales,” said one shopper.

From early bird specials to bonus buys, Kohl’s customers have come to expect great things.

“The savings is unbeatable,” said another woman.

That’s what Pattie Woody thought after purchasing a sheet set that was on sale for half off: $209.99.

“Fifty percent off looks really great,” said Woody.

But when she got home and looked inside the packaging, “it really surprised me,” Pattie said. That’s because she found another price tag that said $169.99. That’s $40 cheaper than the outside sticker.

“You expect to see the price tag stuck on top of another one as the cheaper price. Actually, it was more expensive,” Pattie said, leaving her to wonder if Kohl’s is marking up prices before putting items on sale.

Using our hidden cameras, 3 On Your Side went shopping at several Kohl’s stores, checking price tags on some items currently on sale.

So when is a sale not always a great deal? Take a dutch oven we found, for instance. The dutch oven says $99.99 regular price, on sale for $79.99. When you peel off the sticker, underneath it says $79.99. There’s no sale.

From bed skirts to serving plates, picture frames to luggage, we found sale item after sale item where higher-price tags had been placed over lower-price tags.

We found flatware priced at $64.99, a buy-one-get-one-free deal. But underneath the sticker was a price tag of $59.99. When we asked a cashier about it, we were told that Kohl’s doesn’t set the prices.

“Kohl’s doesn’t set the prices?” our producer asked.

“Oh no, no. It’s always the vendor,” said the employee.

Another employee told us the price hike on a comforter was based on the rising cost of cotton. The comforter was on sale for 30% off. We found one price tag on the plastic packaging for $289, another on the cardboard insert for $249. They had marked it up $40.

In both situations, managers honored the lower price when calculating our discount, saving us an additional $26.75 in the case of the comforter.

Sometimes items had two prices, one next to the other. On a quilt we found, one tag said $149, the other $199, a $50 difference.

Prof. Ron Hill is a marketing and business law professor at Villanova.

“The Kohl’s shopper, like many shoppers today, expects to get a good deal,” said Prof. Hill. “If you can increase the perception of that deal, you’re more likely to get a sale. They have the opportunity to change prices at any time in most circumstances, but it certainly strikes us as unethical. It’s unethical in the sense that you are moving the price to something else only for the purpose of inflating the perceptions of the discount, and that strikes me as wrong.”

In a statement to CBS3, Kohl’s says that sometimes prices are “increased due to production and raw material cost increases,” and that stores are instructed to re-ticket all items “to match the prices on the tags for all incoming merchandise,” a practice that took some shoppers by surprise.

“It’s a little upsetting,” said one woman.

“That’s not right. It’s just not right,” said another woman.

Kohl’s did not address the issue of increased prices in relation to sales.

My advice: If it’s clear that an item has been marked up, ask that the discount be applied to the lower price. We found most Kohl’s employees were willing to do this.

So are other stores marking up prices too? We haven’t seen any other chains doing this, but then again, some don’t even tag items with prices anymore. The price tag is just on the shelf, so buyer beware.

Top Content On CBSPhilly

More from Jim Donovan
  • Liz

    THANK YOU Jim! Seen this and knowing I was already going there today, I checked it out. Saved an extra $10.00 on one item and an additional 25% on another! YAY!

  • Susan

    Jim – I Don’t understand WHY you singled out Kohl’s. A responsible shopper is going to do cost comparisons irregardless. I’ve shopped at Kohl’s – gotten good bargains – and NEVER had sticker shock ! ! What’s the point of your revelations? Marshall’s, Target, Ross, Home Goods, even Walmart – ALL use a mark up/mark down marketing technique. Unlike it’s competitors, Kohl’s goes out of their way to keep the customer happy. No, I don’t work there … I just don’t understand why you didn’t include other stores in your expose !

    • jimdonovancbs3

      Susan – Kohl’s was the only store of those that you mentioned that when we shopped, had higher price tags placed over lower price tags. I am sure that other stores mark up inventory to match with incoming merchandise, but Kohl’s for some reason doesn’t remove the old stickers. The claim that the cost increases are due to the increase cost of raw materials may make sense for incoming merchandise but not for existing stock. Also, we have had several Kohl’s employees reach out to us after our story aired to let us know that in indeed in some circumstances the prices are increased immediately prior to a sale to make the savings look more significant. Jim D.

  • Liz Rodrigue

    You have to know what your buying @ Khol’s. I shop off the clearance price and then again they honor the sale price for up to two weeks so If they found a cheaper price on what they purchased Khol’s will honor it! I have purchased “Free County Jackets” costing $100.00 for under ten dollars you have to learn how to shop. People with money usually never question the price. You can get sheet sets, quilts, towels, etc cheaper @ Ross, TJMax, Home Good stores!

  • Dave

    Unfortunately, over the years I have discovered that this is a common practice for Kohl’s. Their “sale” price is usually what other retailers charge on an everyday basis. There are exceptions, though, and you can get some really good deals at Kohl’s. The consumer just has to do a little homework.

  • Donna

    Jim, I want to presonally thank you for your story about Kohls. I shopped at Kohls yesterday, and after seeing your story today I was curious to see if I got scammed, so I checked my items. I had purchased fryng pans and a pot and there it was , the original price was on the packaging and a sticker at a higher price was on top of it. I couldn’t believe it when I peeled those stickers off . They were marked $10.00 higher than the original price. Well, they will be hearing from me tomorrow when I have to make a trip back to their store to get my money back. I lost all my trust in Kohls and I won’t be doing my shopping there anymore. Thanks again and keep up the good work!

    • mike

      Whoa 10 whole dollars! if you lost trust in and refused to shop everywhere that “scammed” you out of 10 dollars you wouldnt have anywhere to spend your money, heck you probably wouldnt even have a bank to put your money in with all their hidden service fees. It’s a rise in price due to raw material costs not a scam so don’t let this video change your view on a company or a store,

  • Lew

    I can see why some people may think it unethical or improper for a retailer to raise the price of existing goods to match those coming in. Yet, these same practices don’t seem to be considered that way for gasoline sales. How often to we see gas prices suddenly go up – even when there is no delivery between prices?

  • Ericka

    I shop at Kohl’s all the time, if I see a sticker over a price, you can usually tell if it’s marked up or not. I only buy stuff on sale and with discounts. I even mentioned that to a very nice employee, I said I never pay full price here, she said I can’t blame you, there is always a sale on something within 2 weeks of it coming in. There was something I was looking at that had a “retail” price of $61, was marked down and it was to $25 on clearance, I passed on the item, even with my discount, cause it wasn’t cheap enough, the cashier agreed. You need to be a wise shopper. It is true about the prices being different on 2 things, depends on when an item comes in.

  • Maryann Hibbs

    This is precisely why the grocery stores stopped ticketing, you can have a can of corn that has been sitting on the shelf for months & the price has increased several times over, another reason Penney’s stopped the sales too, consumers are paying attention!!

  • Rose

    I think that coupons are a conspiracy to drive us crazy! They also make us shop more. That being said, I always keep my eye on something I like, and never buy it at the original price (unless you have a son like mine that outgrows clothes every week). I won’t buy until I like the price.

  • Bill Stephens

    Jim, I remember such markups when Clover stores were shuttered when Strawbridge & Clothier stores were sold, and they were having “liquidation sales” on all of their merchandise. I went to their automotive department one day and found turn signal bulbs that were marked up to $6.49 and then marked back down to $1.99, which was actually MORE than their regular price back then of $1.49!

    • jimdonovancbs3

      Bill – the differance with liquidation sales is that in most cases outside companies come in, buy the entire stock and then set the prices for the liquidation. For examples when Borders went belly up you could find items on the Borders website for much less than what the liquidation companies were selling them for in the store. JD

  • Cheri

    I see your point, however, this is nothing new – all retailers have to match the prices of new inventory with existing inventory. I totally feel that had the mark up been done properly (new insert or new ticket), this would be a non issue. Aside from the mark up, Kohls generally always has a sale, coupons or Kohls cash promotion going on. I would even venture to say a high percentage of consumers would never have to pay the original retail price because the items are on sale so much. Consumers need to shop smart. Shop with the sales, shop with the coupons/promotions and Kohls cash. This part is up to the consumer. This is a business after all. And yes, I do work retail, but I’m also a smart consumer.

    • Bill Stephens

      Perhaps, then, they should follow the example of J.C. Penney, where they don’t constantly run a sale, but give a “low” price to everyone every day. If you can afford to keep knocking prices down, doesn’t it mean that your prices are too high to begin with?

      • Cheri

        Bill – I believe J.C. Penney literally just launched this “less consumer confusion” approach beginning February 2012. Maybe other retailers will follow suit. I also think it’s safe to assume this new approach could likely save J.C. Penney many dollars in payroll and advertisement fees.

        On the flip side, I think some consumers love the idea of using coupons, sales and discounts. The “idea” that they got a good deal gives one a sense of accomplishment.

        I think more time is needed to see how this new approach will work.

      • fred

        Penneys has tried to copy kohls and failed.

  • Lynne

    I shop Kohls all the time I never buy anything that is not on sale and always use a discount coupon. I have gotten great deals on jewelry and household items. Don’t understan what u mean by sticker shock????

  • Mr.Walt

    Video only stories do no good to deaf readers. What is this article about?
    Is 3 on my side? I don’t mind the lawyer commercial, but give me print, please.

    • jimdonovancbs3

      Mr. Walt – I’ll attempt to get a written version of the report added for you. Jim D.

      • Mr.Walt

        Thank you very much for the written version. There’s a lot to think about when I try to put myself in the role of retailer. Consumers must do their homework.
        You can’t cheat an honest (or informed) man.

  • mike

    Donovan get your information straight, the prices are rasied due to raw material costs not so they can jack up the prices and then mark them half off. If you want to do a fun little research project why dont you follow around the customers, the ones who always coincidently leave their 30% coupon at home or leave any coupon at home for that matter or customers who scratch of clearance stickers and put them on other items Or the ones who before they even shop demand to see a manager to insure they get a percent off when they dont have a coupon or a charge card, Theres also other people who abuse the system im not going to say what they do because im not going to give abusive consumers any ideas but people go through the store and commit extremely unethical acts in order to save money and Kohls honors the customer everytime, you can complain about any product you want but if you dont like it then bring it back thats their policy. Kohls is extremly considerate of their customers even the ones who purely try and scam the company. Maybe next time take a look at the consumer before attacking a fair and honest company, and sticker shock or not, raised price or not their prices still beat out competitors so what’s the issue?

    • jimdonovancbs3

      Mike – I have a feeling that you work at Kohl’s based on your comments. First off, I shop at Kohl’s. I like shopping at Kohl’s, and Kohl’s does have good sales. But I don’t appreciate when a store tells me that I am getting a discount when they raise the price of an item from $79.99 to $99.99 and then down the road mark it back down to $79.99. I don’t think most people would consider that to be a sale.

      Secondly, I have done my research. I do know that raw material costs for products have certainly increased over the last year or so quite significantly. In fact that in my report that was the reason why Kohl’s gave for the price hikes. But I’ve been doing this job long enough to know that retail pricing is an art, not a science. Just because a store raises a price on a quilt $50, doesn’t mean that it cost $50 more to make. Kohl’s does what many stores do, they mark up existing merchandise to match in-coming items. Maybe the in-coming items cost more to make. But that doesn’t mean that the quilt that has been sitting on the shelf for months has cost the company $50 more. Prices are normally based on what it costs the company to replace the item in it’s inventory, not the actual production of that particular item.

      • john

        im guessing everyone expects to get whatever they want for little or no money.

      • Elaine

        What about the gasoline that sits in the station’s underground storage tanks? It gets raised daily after delivery and there is no more cost to the company while it just sits there, yet the price goes up. It is the same thing.

    • michelle

      you are sooooo right. Or how about the people who come in with expired Kohls cash from NOVEMBER and want to use it in FEBURARY? or when they try to pass the 30% down the line to other customers.

      • fred

        Has anyone read Consumer Reports? Enough said.

    • Jenny

      This is a little ridiculous, I have to agree with the story. They are not trading in commodities, people. Sticker prices for stock that is in stock without new stock coming in do not rise and fall with raw material prices. The Cost of Goods has already been had before distribution. Only if they were to be shipped might shipping costs fluctuate with fuel costs. If a new order comes in and it is priced differently and you want to re-price the existing stock to have them be consistent, then remove all prior prices. Still, the level to which this is happening would make it seem like quite the overstock/inventory problem…and that is hard to believe.

  • Renne

    This will not sway me from shopping at Kohls. I have seen stickers on stickers at many stores. I think that Kohls do have good sales and prices and I have always found them to be fair. They will do anything to keep the customer happy. If you do find a sticker on a sticker…just bring it up to an employee..not a problem. So, with that being said…there isn’t any sticker shock!! Maybe, you should dig into the real reason that many many stores have to do this? So, slamming Kohls is not cool. Do you have any idea of how much Kohls gives and helps communities and charities? Maybe you should look into the good and tell the consumers about that. And blame the economy for the rise of cotton prices and all the other products that have sticker shock!!

    • jimdonovancbs3

      I agree Renne – the majority of Kohl’s cashiers and supervisors will bend over backwards to give you a discount. But respectfully disagree with you with regards what people assume when stickers are placed on top of price stickers. The assumption of most shoppers is that the prices in those cases are going down with each sticker, and not going up.

      • mike

        Well that is on the shopper, Kohls is easy White ticket is adjusted price, Yellow ticket is clearance price, no one ever said or advertised that an additional ticket means a lower price, and no one was ever trying to be deceptive about it.

  • Michelle Brackin

    There is a video at the top of the page with the story.

  • Kristen

    That’s great, Jim, but would you care to share why they would walk away with sticker shock??

    • jimdonovancbs3

      Most shoppers were suprised to learn that when price tag was placed on top of price tag that the prices were actually going up, instead of going down. In fact most marketing experts find that shoppers are conditioned to thinking that items are only marked down, especially when the item is featured for sale. But in actuality retailers can move prices either way. JD

  • Peter

    So where’s the rest of the story?

blog comments powered by Disqus
Taz Goes Big!
Download Now!

Listen Live