Rather be shopping? You’ve gotta know the code

Pay attention to the last digit of the price tag. It could tell you if you’re getting a bargain, or paying full price.

At least that’s what Kyle James says.

His theory — developed over a 13-year career as a blogger and shopping expert — is that every business has a price-tag “code.” It’s an internal pricing system that, if understood, helps you determine if you are getting a good deal or if you should wait to buy, as the price will be lowered.

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For example, if you’re shopping at Costco, did you know:

✓ Prices ending in .99 are full retail price.

✓ Prices ending in .97, .88, or .00 are marked down prices and offer substantial savings over the full retail price.

✓ A price tag with an asterisk (*) on it means you are getting the best price possible. The asterisk means the item is discontinued and will be deleted from the warehouse in the very near future.

At JCPenney, here’s what the tags mean:

✓ Prices ending in .00 – full price.

✓ Prices ending in .99 or .97 – That’s a clearance price, and it’s typically a good deal.

✓ Prices ending in .98 – these were your “2 for” deals, so look for a second item for purchase.

“I got started on the story when I saw a news story on Target last fall about how can you use the cents column to figure out if you’re paying full price or getting a sale price,” he told me. “I was like, ‘Wow, that’s kind of cool, I wonder if other stores have an internal pricing system like this as well?’”

James outlines all of these discoveries in a recent post on his blog. So far, he’s cracked the code for 15 stores, and he’s promised more.

If you’re a deal hound, you’ll definitely want to pay attention to the price code. But the code has a few inherent weaknesses.

Supplies are limited. If word gets around that an “8” at the end of a price is a definite sale, how long do you think it will take for a business to change its prices? If you said, “As fast as it can print new labels,” give yourself a pat on the back. Needless to say, the codes probably have a limited shelf life.

Don’t let the code control you. Just as a “clearance” sign can override a shopper’s common sense, so, too the right digit at the end of a tag could short-circuit your ability to make a rational decision. Even if you know a product is on sale, ask yourself: Is it a good deal for me?

The product matters more. Fair warning, fellow shopaholics: Even if you can get past the likelihood a code will be switched by an enterprising company and you can shake off its influence, you need to pay attention to the actual product. Red labels at apparel stores may signal a deal, but if the product is damaged or shoddy, what’s the point? Maybe there is a reason it’s on sale.

Bottom line: Knowing the code is key, but so is context. There are lots of other factors to consider in a purchase.

Let the code be your guide.

Do you trust prices ending in .99?

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