While you're walking along a mall strip, flanked by stores on your left and right, they'll try different tactics to persuade you to take a peek at their shop. From employees offering free samples, to special guests or events, a retail store can go to surprising lengths to secure your business.
And that includes bending the truth every once in a while.
Retail stores are notorious for seemingly impossible sales and discounts - because they usually are. Most attention-grabbing slogans will come with an asterisk on the end, covering the store from false advertising accusations, even though they technically are lying to you.
Don't beat yourself up over the following five retailer fibs that likely hoodwinked you into buying that new bowling ball (who owns their own bowling ball anyway?). Once you recognize them with our shopping tips, retailers won't be able to take you for a ride again.
The 'Going Out of Business' Sale
Let us clarify: the store probably isn't lying about going out of business. Otherwise, we tip our hats to any establishment that's perpetually going out of business, and running a going out of business sale round the clock. That's the perfect marketing crime.
But, we're not here to encourage retail fibs. So when you see that 'going out of business' sale, interpret the word 'sale' very loosely. Remember, just because they're going out of business and they're selling things off, that doesn't mean it'll be the sale of the century.
Going out of business sales are often higher than normal sale prices. Electronics chain Circuit City was called out by Consumer Reports when they noted the store's liquidation prices were actually inflated compared to their other locations. There's some logic to it in their defense, as it'll be the last chance for the store to get anything near retail value for their products.
And don't let the 'X% off!' propaganda fool you - most come with an 'up to' qualifier, which means you likely won't save money shopping at that retailer.
The 'Lifetime Warranty'
At surface value, it doesn't seem to get any better than a lifetime warranty. That's a long time, after all.
But whose life are we talking about again?
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests the 'lifetime warranty' phrase can be utilized in three different ways. Using the item everyone should have a lifetime warranty on (a muffler) as an example, these are the three ways it can be interpreted, taken from the FTC's Businessperson's Guide to Federal Warranty Law:
- The muffler is guaranteed for the life of the car upon which it is installed. This means the guarantee is transferred to subsequent owners.
- The muffler is guaranteed for only so long as the car is owned by the original purchaser. The FTC claims this is an "inaccurate application" of the term "lifetime," but is still commonly used.
- The muffler is guaranteed so long as the original purchaser is alive. This is actually the least common usage.
In other words, what you may interpret as a lifetime warranty - an item that will last you till the end of your days - could be completely different from what the retailer had in mind.
The 'We Won't Be Undersold' Promise
This retail classic is a 'price guarantee', meaning the seller won't let a competitor beat their price. They'll usually offer a price match if you can prove another retailer is selling the same product at a lower rate.
Having said that, many retailers bend this promise a tad. Their definition of being undersold is limited; for example, you might not get a price match if you're comparing online outlets, as they aren't seen as 'direct competition'.
Never assume a retailer will do an adjustment and refund post-sale, unless it's explicitly stated in their price-match policy.
The 'Satisfaction Guaranteed' Guarantee
Like the lifetime warranty, the 'satisfaction guaranteed' guarantee can't be quantified - who gauges what it means to be satisfied?
This is how the FTC defines a satisfaction guarantee:
The guides advise that, regardless of the price of the product, advertising terms such as "satisfaction guaranteed" or "money back guarantee" should be used only if the advertiser is willing to provide full refunds to customers when, for any reason, they return the merchandise.
In reality, any refund or return can have all sorts of stipulations attached. You know that satisfaction that was guaranteed for that primo broom you bought? That satisfaction was only guaranteed for two weeks - sorry! Or, a refund could hinge on a restocking fee that you need to cover.
Be extremely wary about this falsehood in particular - stores almost always use this term. It's all upside; it creates confidence in the buyer, and only a very small number of dissatisfied customers will go through the hassle of getting their money back.
The 'It's Free!' Hoax
The main goal of a retailer is to make money. So, it's pretty unlikely they're giving anything away for 'free'.
Yes, even that first, zero-cost sample of grape pie for joining the Pie of the Month club is designed to close a sale. Plus, that sample will likely be followed up with waves of pie literature and more samples until you give in.
The best way to defend yourself against free items that aren't really free is to simply be mindful of any catches and attached strings. If you're offered a freebie to attend an event for example, you should expect to pressured into buying something.
And if you manage to attend such an event, acquire your freebie, and walk away guilt-free - well that's just smart shopping.
Now that you're educated in the tricks retailers use everyday, you'll never be fooled into spending unwisely, or feel pressured into buying something that's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
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