Retirement Planning, Elder Law, and Senior Finance

3/8/2023 | By Sandra Block

Buyer beware! Kiplinger’s Personal Finance explains when a sale is not a bargain and offers ways you can ensure you are getting a good deal.

When is a sale not a sale? Most of the time, according to Consumers’ Checkbook, a nonprofit consumer organization.

After tracking prices at 25 major retailers over 33 weeks, Consumers’ Checkbook concluded that the same “sale price” was offered more than half the time. Worse, some retailers’ sale prices never changed, Consumers’ Checkbook found. Clearly, in these cases, the sale is not a bargain.

Some of the worst offenders included Amazon, Nordstrom and Wayfair, which promoted sales that were usually misleading, Consumers’ Checkbook said. Walmart and Best Buy promoted sales that were often misleading, Consumers’ Checkbook found, while Target’s sales were sometimes misleading. Of the 25 retailers surveyed, only Apple, Costco, and Bed Bath & Beyond offered legitimate sales, Consumers’ Checkbook said.

Related: Savvy tips for in-store and online shopping

Consumers’ Checkbook tracked sales promotions at major retailers once a week beginning in February 2022. The researchers selected on-sale products that were representative of each retailer’s primary offerings (power tools at Home Depot, for example, and electronics at Best Buy).

This isn’t the first time Consumers’ Checkbook has investigated questionable discount prices, and the organization says the problem of misleading discounts has become worse. In 2018, Consumers’ Checkbook found that six major retailers offered fake discounts at least half of the time. In 2022, nearly all of the stores surveyed fell into that category.

By advertising bogus sales, retailers hope to dissuade consumers from looking for lower prices elsewhere, Consumers’ Checkbook says.

But savvy shoppers don’t have to take retailers’ word for it when it comes to prices. By recognizing when a sale is not a bargain and proactively searching for genuine sales, you can be a savvy shopper.

Here’s how to search for legitimate deals:

Register and download the Honey browser. The tool will search for coupons while you’re on a store’s website and apply them automatically at checkout.

The online tool will provide price history charts for products sold on Amazon and alert you to price drops. and Yahoo Shopping publish “best deals” for various items, which you can use to comparison shop.

when a sale is not a bargain

For all the hoopla over e-commerce, more than half of Americans say they prefer buying from a physical store to shopping online, according to the Pew Research Center. In that case, researching prices online before you go to the store could help you avoid bogus sales. And even if an item appears to be legitimately on sale, don’t feel pressured to buy it. Many retailers will hold the lower price upon request.

Shopping in person may also give you an edge when purchasing big-ticket items, such as appliances and electronics. According to Consumers’ Checkbook, many large manufacturers require retailers to publish prices at or above specified minimums in online searches and sales circulars. However, these policies don’t apply to prices quoted to customers in person, so you may be able to negotiate a lower price, particularly if you’re buying from an independent retailer that’s eager to close the deal.

Sandra Block is a senior editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. For more on this and similar money topics, visit

©2023 The Kiplinger Washington Editors, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Sandra Block

Sandra Block is a senior editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. For more on this and similar money topics, visit