Another deceptive retail practice has become common . . .

What Ever Happened to List Price?

Conrad Weisert
December 28, 2011

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Deceptive retail pricing

Some time ago we noted the growing number of deceptive techniques used by retailers, espcially in the United States, in stating the price of a product. The 2011 Christmas gift shopping season has highlighted another one. Nearly everthing you can buy in a department store or a gift shop is reduced by some huge percentage:

Save 40% 60% to 75% off! Reduced up to 50%!

"Reduced" from what?

That was then

In my youth I spent five years working in retail. It was a rule back then that if we cited a reduction from regular price, then we had to have actually sold some of the same (or comparable) items for the original or regular price, officially called the "list price".

We might get around that by advertising a "special purchase" of items that were "comparable" to items sold elsewhere for the stated list price. In that case, we were expected to verify that other stores were actually selling the item for that price.

Any deviation from that care was considered, if not illegal in some states, deceptive practice, and potentially damaging to the reputation of a quality retailer.

and this is now

Advertised pseudo-reductions are now so commonplace that many shoppers won't consider buying anything that hasn't been "reduced". No one takes the base price seriously. If the base price were a fair one, then 60% off would soon put the retailer out of business.

This year, two men's clothing chains are advertising three suits for the price of one. One says "Buy one suit for $179.95 and get two more suits absolutely free!" We have to wonder about the quality of those $60 suits.

We have to conclude that for many kinds of item there is no longer any such thing a regular or list price. Everything is always "on sale". We haven't "saved" any money when we buy such an item; we've just decided that the price is one we can afford.

Last modified December 28, 2011

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