Retailers' math: Confusing on purpose
Does '10 for $10' mean you have to buy 10? Will a $5-off coupon pull you into a store you usually don't bother with?
When faced with a "10 for $10" sale, do you automatically buy 10? Or do you skip the deal because you don't need 10?
Check the fine print, suggests the author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Couponing." Rachel Singer Gordon notes that unless the ad specifies "when you buy 10" or "must buy 10," you can walk out with one, or 11, at the sale price.
Or how about supermarket specials like "six for $10": Do some people think not just that they have to buy six but also that the final cost is 60 cents apiece?
Maybe. A reader once suggested that the math-challenged might have trouble with that one. She also thought that some shoppers, stymied by dividing six into 10, might move along even if the price break was decent and the item was something they used regularly.
As I noted in "When a store's deal isn't a good deal," we need to question our needs. We also need to question our arithmetic.
Retailers use all sorts of psychology to get us to buy, such as placing cheaper products on the lowest shelves, betting you won't feel like bending down to get the less-expensive spaghetti sauce -- assuming you see it at all -- or putting milk all the way in the back of the store, requiring you to walk past tempting nonessentials to get there.
They send out coupons, too. Lots of them. Recently a major retailer mailed me a certificate for $5 off a purchase of $15 or more. My first thought was, "Nice -- one-third off!"
Except that I don't usually shop at this store and that there's no guarantee I would find something that cost only $15.
Gordon's book gives another common example: 12-packs of soft drinks advertised as "buy two, get two free." The fine print will say something like "save $11.98 on four," which means that the first two 12-packs cost $5.99 each. Thus, you'd pay about $3 for each of the four.
These days that's not a bad price -- especially if you, like me, send away for free 12-pack coupons through My Coke Rewards and wind up getting four free rather than two. But suppose you wanted only one 12-pack and you wanted to pay $3 for it?
No can do. "You would have to buy in quantity to get the savings," Gordon writes.
- Bing: Retail marketing tricks
It wouldn't be nearly as attention-getting if the retailer advertised it as "get 25% off each of two items." Like I said: psychology.
Doing the math
Two more examples I've seen: "Spend 'X' dollars on paper products and get a free $5 gift card" and "Spend $50 dollars and get $10 off your next purchase of $50."
Here's what I think about those deals:
- The first one was at a store whose paper-product prices aren't the best. The $5 would bring them almost into line with a discount retailer.
- The second, at an outdoors shop, wound end up requiring you to spend an additional $40 to save $10.
Obviously, we should all take time to do the math. Twice, if necessary. When we're rushed and preoccupied we may not be firing on all consumer cylinders.
Your smartphone probably has a calculator. Don't be too proud to use it.
I don't have a smartphone, and sometimes I'm not too smart (see "getting two items for half-off," above). Thus I make it a point to read ads a couple of times and, if need be, to scribble the math in the margins. Among other things, I need to compare the 25%-off price on two name-brand products to the cost of the store brand, especially when I'm in the market for only one.
Retailers can't be blamed for wanting to sell as many widgets as possible. Consumers can't be faulted for wanting the best deals they can get.
Readers: What are your (least) favorite examples of retail math?
More on MSN Money:
I remember experiencing a situation concerning a percentage off when purchasing gas. I was telling the lady I received a 3 percent rebate when I purchased gas using my credit card. She told me she got the same discount by pre purchasing her gas on her Wal Mart Card. I tried to explain to her that she got 3 cents off each gallon and I received a 3 percent rebate. She replied that 3 cents and 3 percent is the same. When I took paper and pencil and showed her the difference if gasoline was $3 per gallon she finally accepted there was a difference. What is so sad is this lady has a college degree and was an office manager for a major tax prep company.
I always read the unit price on the sticker on the store shelves. However I will use my calculator (on my phone) when there is no item unit price available. Sometimes though I opt for a smaller (more expensive per unit item) if I don't use it that often, example mayo, it takes me forever to go through a mega jar of it.
I almost always will piggy back a coupon with a store sale.
I love math! therefore I work out my grocery or other shopping list four times to get the best "deal"
Walmart is notorious for bilking the customer with false illusions, in the store kinda like expensive items in the wrong place for cheaper knowing all to well what they are doing ..this is the same company using slogans like made in america knowing darn well it's a lie.
kmart right up along with them and so many others lying decieving these stores cant even take care of their own emplyees with good medical coverage, instead they live in the loop hole of making people work under required hours purposely,so they never qualify yet for years.I say we boycot these loosers let them know America is tired of the lies and the deception kroger publix the list is gynormas
I guess I'm lucky because math has always come naturally to me. I never have to think twice about any type of advertised price.
"Buy one, get one half off." How could anyone not understand that?
But then, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. While I am excellent with numbers, I am a horrible speller. If it wasn't for spell check, I would be lost.
I was going to buy some soda for a treat because of the pretty good price. But that price was only if you buy 4.
I hate it when the print is too small for me to read that you have to buy 4 to get the good price. And then the shelf sale display was missing also. I almost took it back because it wasn't a treat at twice the price and to say I felt the ad was misleading when it could only be read by someone with 20-10 vision. But I didn't, I guess I was too embarassed to do it.
Copyright © 2013 Microsoft. All rights reserved.
Quotes are real-time for NASDAQ, NYSE and AMEX. See delay times for other exchanges.
Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Thomson Reuters (click for restrictions). Real-time quotes provided by BATS Exchange. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Interactive Data Real-Time Services. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by SIX Financial Information.
WHAT IS FRUGAL NATION?
Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.
ABOUT DONNA FREEDMAN
Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
Starting Monday, this site is joining forces with MSN Money Smart Spending. Here's why.
VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
A new federal safety report shows toddlers and minority children make up a disproportionate number of drowning victims.