Rafi Mohammed

The Retail Price Whisperer: Breaking the Secret Code of Price Tags

Posted on June 7th, 2007 (0 Comments)

I always enjoy writing these blogs, but I find today’s topic so fascinating that I literally could not wait to wake up (it’s 6:15 AM) to write this blog! Did you know that at many retailers, the last digit of a retail price tag is secretly sending you a message? This is what Josh Hyatt, a senior writer at Money Magazine who wrote “Cracking the Price Quote” (April 2007) and consumerist.com bloggers Ben Popken and Meghann Marco have discovered.

According to “price hackers” who enjoy breaking retailers’ secret pricing codes, price tags ending in “99” (e.g., $29.99) indicate full price at most retailers. Memo to me: never purchase a product with a price ending in “99.” The deciphering fun begins when price tags have different endings. At Target, the last digit of a price is reportedly lowered every time a price is discounted (e.g., dropping from $29.99 to $25.98). For those of us who need affirmation that we’re getting the lowest price, prices ending in “4” represent the lowest price Target will offer for a product. Josh Hyatt, the Money Magazine reporter, interviewed an employee at an office superstore who openly advises customers to wait until the ending price is “.04,” which signals it’s at clearance. Pricing codes differ by retailers. For example, many retailers use “7” to signify a clearance price.

Curious about how to decode price tags at your favorite retailer? I thought so…according to Consumerist.com, price hackers claim that at:

Circuit City: prices ending in “99” mean full price, “98” - price matches local competitors, “96” - product is in low supply (either out of production or so new that supplies are not regular yet), and “95” - lowest price.

Sears: “99” means regular price, “98”- no sales or coupons, “88” - closeout, “97” - clearance/discount, “93”- refurbished/open box.

Office Depot: prices not ending in “0,” “9”, or “5” are final markdowns.

Music CD’s priced at “$6.66” indicate the devil was involved in making the music. Okay...I made up this one.

Just to be clear, none of the above chains have publicly confirmed that they have such pricing coding systems. What I’m interested in better understanding is why retailers have such a coding. Hyatt reports that this coding helps retailers quickly identify where an item is in its price cycle and inventory. But with sophisticated computers, couldn’t this information be brought up instantaneously?

After discovering these secret codes, I’ll never look at price tags the same way again.

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