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3 On Your Side: Kohl’s Sticker Shock

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jim-donovan-web Jim Donovan
Jim Donovan is a 13-time Emmy Award-winning consumer reporter w...
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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.

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