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Beware of False Advertising: When a Sale is Not Really a Sale

Updated on November 13, 2012
A legitimate advertised sale of an item 40 cents less than normal.
A legitimate advertised sale of an item 40 cents less than normal. | Source

Shoppers love sales. And why not? Nearly everyone needs to watch their pennies these days. Sometimes you can find true advertised sales that are good deals. However, occasionally I see signs for lowered sale prices that don't seem to actually be a lower price. Is this false advertising?

What is False Advertising?

According to Wikipedia, "false advertising is the use of false or misleading statements in advertising." To me, this refers to making false claims about an item or service or advertising a lower price, only to find it not on sale in the actual store. This of course, is illegal.

However, some retailers may make an item appear like it is on sale, when it is really not. For example, you may see an item on a shelf that has a tag which reads, "New Lower Price." Do you ever look under the tag and reveal the original price and the "new lowered price" are the same? Technically this may not be false advertising, but it sure seems deceiving to me.

I have experienced this at the grocery store a couple times as well as at a large discount store. Now I always look under the new or temporary prices signs to see what the old tags state.

Sign advertising a price cut
Sign advertising a price cut | Source
Original price tag under the sign
Original price tag under the sign | Source

How to Avoid Being Prey to "New Lower Price" Tags

The best way to shop is to decide what items you truly need and make a list while you are still at home. Do your comparison shopping and coupon clipping at home. Then, shop from your list so you will not be lured into buying items that are not lower prices than what you would normally purchase them for.

What to Do if You Suspect False Advertising

If you have doubt regarding a legitimate sale item or find an item that is not as depicted in a store advertisement, go talk to the manager or business owner. Remember.... innocent until proven guilty. It is always better to make sure you are not misunderstanding the listed price or any advertising claims before getting angry as there could be a simple explanation. This is also true for businesses that provide services.

A couple years ago my I registered my son for a basketball camp that was advertised as having a low coach to player ratio. There were nearly forty kids in the camp and one coach. That is not what I understood when reading the program brochure so I met with the business' marketing manager and told him my concern. He did not know what to say at first. Then I showed him exactly where on his brochure that is stated not once, but twice, that there would be a low coach to player ratio. He had to agree that forty to one was not a low ratio. I didn't press anything further with the marketing manager or owner, but I never signed up for another sports camp at that business nor do I recommend it to anyone I know.

Since advertising is regulated by state and federal law, actual false advertising is rare. The federal agency that regulates advertising is the Federal Trade Commission, also known as the FTC. This agency relies on consumers and competitors to report case advertising claims. Recently, "Your Baby Can Read" settled false advertising claims with the FTC for failing to show evidence that their product can actually teach nine month old babies to read, giving them a jump start on academic learning. According to CNN, two years ago Kellogg settled two separate false advertising claims with the FTC for making dubious claims regarding the health advantages of children consuming Frosted Mini Wheats and Rice Krispees.

Have you ever confronted a business about false advertising?

See results

Read the Fine Print

Also beware of tricky marketing. Some stores may offer a $5 gift card with the purchase of a certain item. Looking more closely, the fine print may say the purchase of two items have to be purchased. If that is the case, you may find that it is not worth the $5 gift card to have to buy two items at the regular non sale price. It may be better to wait for a true sale. This is not deceptive advertising, rather a clever marketing tactic.

Do Not Make Impulse Purchases

Unless it is a super deal on a classic little black dress that fits you perfectly, do not make impulse buys. Comparison shop at home and stick to your list! Resist the temptation to purchase an item just because the sign says it is on sale.


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    • internpete profile image

      Peter V 5 years ago from At the Beach in Florida

      Well, interesting hub! I am very price-savvy (learned it from my father) and usually have a pretty good idea of what an item was originally priced. I have not seen circumstances like you outlined here, but sometimes i'll see sales where it is only reduced a few cents!

      Great job bringing attention to this!

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      Ahahaha. I love the now $8.99 was $8.99. That is too good! I've noticed that retailers will pronounce a sale when the savings are negligible, but I haven't personally noticed the same price. I'll have to look for it! That's why I love Publix - it puts the 'savings' in really big print. The sign may say "you save $1 on 2 (items)," so they will make the number look as big as possible, but at least it's easy to find.

      Thanks for the great info!

    • mts1098 profile image

      mts1098 5 years ago from InsideTheManCave

      You know the funny thing about pricing items is that nothing is really worth the cost especially when you break down what you get for your money...cheers

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image

      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      SoaresJCSL thanks for reading. PracticalMommy, yes a list really is best, but sometimes its so hard not to deviate from the list! Thanks for your comments.

    • ThePracticalMommy profile image

      Marissa 5 years ago from United States

      These are great tips, especially for all of the holiday shopping that everyone will be doing in a few months. I agree that you should make a list before you go out and do your homework about deals and sales.

      Great hub!

    • SoaresJCSL profile image

      SoaresJCSL 5 years ago

      Hello. I never confronted a business about false advertising. Thanks for sharing this useful information.