I am all about transparency in consumerism. I want to know what you are charging me, broken down by item, and why. As long as a retailer can show me this via price tags and advertisements, and it is justified in my mind (including the fact that retailers need to make a profit), then I am quite understanding.

                But what about fees that retailers sneak into prices and negotiations without you being aware of them? Below is a list of five that drive me crazy.

  1. Gas Stations that Advertise a Special Member Card Rate: Gas stations advertise their best price on the top slot of their billboards. But some gas stations have member cards, and only the members can get this lower price on gas. The asterisk showing that it is a special member’s only pricing is usually in lettering is so small that you cannot tell that it is a card member-only price until you have all ready driven to the gas station and are ready to pump. This has happened to me twice, so at this point, I assume that any small lettering under the prices means that it is member-card only and I move onto the next gas station.
  2. Just Pay Extra Shipping and Handling for a “Free” Product: I don’t order things from commercials very often, but I did twice in the last two years and both times the retailer sent me another “free” item that I “just had to pay shipping and handling on”. I did not have a choice in this item; they shipped it to me without me wanting it, and when I called to say that I did not want it, they basically said “too bad”. The extra shipping and handling both times was around $7! If I had returned the item, I would have had to pay shipping again, which means that I kept the items…against my will.
  3. Inflated Replacement Costs: Some products retailers give away for free through rebates, coupons and such. These can include razors, water filter systems, and even printers. Seems like a great deal, right? Except that retailers then charge an arm and a leg for the replacement razor blades, water filters, and ink cartridges, thus making back the money they lost on giving products away for free and then some. Fortunately there is the internet and you can typically find off-brand replacements for almost every brand item out there.
  4. Complimentary” Companion Airfare Ticket: Some electricity companies, services, and/or credit card companies entice consumers with free companion airfare for signing up. This is a great deal if you have a child, husband/wife, or other person that you love to travel with…except that the extreme restrictions and bloated pricing on the one ticket that you must purchase often makes this a total wash (or worse) for you. Recently my friend Helen received a free companion airfare as part of her electricity company’s package for signing up for 12 months. The catch? She had to purchase the one ticket through this third party company, and the ticket cost twice as much as a ticket she could have purchased off of Expedia, Hotwire, or other internet airline site. On top of that, the restrictions for when she could fly were outrageous.
  5. The Penny Product: I know of one store in particular that does this (JCPenny). The offer is that if you buy one product, you can purchase a second for $0.01. This can be a good deal, but expect that part of the price of the second product is built into the price of the first product.  

What are some sneaky retailer tricks you have noticed?

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13 replies
  1. Money Beagle
    Money Beagle says:

    Kroger often runs a deal where if you mix and match 10 items from a list of products, you’ll get $5 off your purchase. This of course works out to $0.50 off per product. In terms of getting the best deal, you get more bang fron your buck by getting ten of the lower priced items ($0.50 a $1.49 item is better than $0.50 off a $5.99 item). But they’ll often feature the higher priced items in the sale ad, at endcaps, and such, so if you let them lead you, they will definitely get the better end of the bargain.

    • Amanda L. Grossman
      Amanda L. Grossman says:

      That is a great one–I shop at Kroger’s and I have definitely noticed that you get better savings from the lower-end items. Then again, if you have matching coupons on the higher priced items (and if Kroger’s still doubled and tripled coupons in Houston:(), then you could still make out well. Thanks for your comments!

  2. optionsdude
    optionsdude says:

    I hate the gasoline trick. In our area, Marathon tends to do that a lot. Advertising the discounted price if you use their credit card in big numbers drives me nuts. I have grown to ignore it though.

  3. Olivia
    Olivia says:

    The old time trick of pricing something at $4.99 instead of $5.

    Coupons for $1 off two, when it used to be 50 cents (which could be doubled) off one.

    Rebate forms with small print and complicated procedures. So when they advertise “after rebate” prices, you may or may not actually get the deal.

  4. Little House
    Little House says:

    I’ve tried using complimentary airline tickets before and they really are a complete ripoff. They are much more expensive and limited in flight options.

    Another gas trick is stations have two prices: one for cash and the other for credit. I never carry cash so I have to skip right over those stations altogether. Very crummy!

  5. Eliza from Happy Simple Living
    Eliza from Happy Simple Living says:

    You really struck a nerve with your first comment about the ‘members only’ price. Retailers love those membership cards and customers loathe them! I need a backpack to carry all of my loyalty cards, and I never seem to have the right one when I go to make a purchase. Aargh!

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