It would be convenient if the prices we paid would end in nice, round numbers like $2.00 or $6.00. But there might be a covert benefit in those tags that read $1.99 or $5.98.
Writer Kyle James says a money-saving secret hides in the two digits on the far right of shelf tags. And he says he’s cracked the code.
"If you know what the cents column means, you can determine if you're getting a good deal or not," James said. His website, RatherBeShopping.com, has posted a list ‘codes’ that he says retailers use to internally signal markdowns.
“I’ve been [writing about shopping] 10 years, and I had no idea,” he said.
For example: James says regular prices at Target end in 9's. But markdowns can be spotted when the final digit is an 8 or a 4. James also says an unlabeled number in the upper right corner of clearance price tags reveals the discount from original price.
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"I've gone to Target and found stuff that's 75 or 90 percent off,” he said. “That's where you find your deals."
When we contacted Target to verify Kyle’s findings, the store disputed his advice.
In a statement, a spokesperson said: "It is not possible to determine the final markdown or timing of the price change from the item's current price."
But when we tested Kyle’s theories, we found that his suggestions were spot on.
In more than a dozen cases, we calculated the markdown from original price on a clearance item. And in every case, the percentage discount matched the tiny, unlabeled number in the upper right—just like Kyle said it would.
He insists he’s on-target with Target as well as other stores because the sources feeding him information are often on the inside.
"All the employees that e-mail me, they want to stay anonymous," he explained.
James said he’s still working on the world’s largest retailer: Wal-Mart.
"I go into Wal-Mart and it's just completely random," he said.
James is confident his advice can help eagle-eyed shoppers scoop up great deals simply by paying careful attention to the digits on the far right: 1's at Sam’s Club; 7's at PetSmart; 5's or 8's at Pier One; and an asterisk (*) on the tags at Costco.
We asked those stores whether Kyle is steering shoppers the right direction. PetSmart declined to comment on its pricing strategy. Costco, Sam's, and Pier One did not respond.
So, why do stores use codes? James says the internal language is intended to help retailers control their supply chain.
"They do it for employees," he said. "So employees know when they are stocking."
James says shoppers can use the lingo to their advantage, too.
"Pay attention to the cents," he added.