Retailer’s Big Secret: Crack the Price Tag CodeSeptember 24, 2013 by Kyle 64 comments • Filed Under Consumer News
Have you ever been staring at that awesome blender at Costco, dreaming of blending your fruit smoothie with ease, and notice the odd price tag of $149.97 and wonder how the heck they came up with that price? If you are normal, probably not. But after you read this article you’ll be checking out every price tag you see because if you know what to look for, you can quickly determine if the price might go even lower or if it’s as low as it’s going to go.
How? Well, many stores use an internal pricing system which shows you if an item has been marked down, if it will be marked down again, or if it’s a final markdown. You just gotta be able to crack the price tag code. Thanks to former employees and code crackers like me, you too can join the ranks of price tag checkers. Here are the details from some of your most popular retailers (in alphabetical order):
American Eagle Outfitters
If you love the look and styles of the clothing at American Eagle Outfitters you’ll want to know the codes to make sure you’re getting the best deal. Here is what you need to know:
- Price ending in .95 - This is full price. Make sure at the very least you have an American Eagle coupon to save some money.
- Prices ending in .99 or .00 – This is a clearance price and the best price you’ll find on the item. Also, if the item has a separately attached price sticker to the actual price tag it is a clearance item. Ending price on attached price sticker can vary by store.
- Bonus: Check out our site for an online American Eagle coupon to save even more.
I have been trying to crack the price tag code at Best Buy for a long time and finally think I made a breakthrough thanks to a thread on Lifehacker where a commenter left some intriguing info. Here is how it breaks down:
- Prices ending in a .99 - Could be a full price or a sale price. Sale items ending in .99 are typically not that big of a savings. Try to avoid the .99 if you can.
- Prices ending in a .92 - This is a 1-time price drop at or below Best Buy’s cost. Typically a screaming deal.
- Prices ending in a .96 - Anything ending in a .96 is an adjusted price designed to beat the price of a competitor.
BJ’s Wholesale Club
Image Credit: Valmg.com
For my readers who live in the eastern United States, BJ’s Wholesale Club also has an internal pricing system that can help you score the best deal possible.
- Prices ending in a 9 - You’re paying full price for the item.
- Prices ending in .90 and .00 - Manager’s special discount. These are typically items the store wants to clear out. They are usually discounted 10% per week for a maximum savings of 60% off.
- Product Codes at BJ’s - These are the numbers on the price tag right next to the item number. Here are the 4 product codes you should be aware of:
- Product Code 1 – It is a regularly priced item that will be restocked.
- Product Code 2 – Product is discontinued and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Sometimes it is discounted, depends on how long it has been sitting on the shelf.
- Product Code 7 – A one time buy like seasonal Christmas decorations. Here today, gone tomorrow. So if the price is right you should snatch it up.
- Product Code 9 – Products that are destined to be sent back to the manufacturer for a variety of reasons. They won’t be restocked and likely will be gone within a week.
I found the Costco pricing system to offer the most potential savings if you are a diligent and always examine the price shelf tags before making a purchase. NOTE: Just so I am completely clear, I was NOT the first person to figure out the coding at Costco, nor have I ever claimed to be. I believe the first person to figure out this information was Len Rapoport via his Hubpage article from 2009. Much of my information has been verified by Costco CFO Richard Galanti via a story with Reuters. If you have any tips that I may be missing below please leave a comment and let me know, thanks!
- Prices ending in .99 - this is the full retail price of items at Costco. (Confirmed by Costco CFO Richard Galanti)
- Prices ending in a 7, namely .97 - means it is a buyer designated markdown and offers substantial savings over the full retail price. (Confirmed by Costco CFO Richard Galanti)
- Prices ending in .00 – this is typically a “returned unopened item that has already been deleted from the system or a one-of-a-kind item.” Usually it’s a marked down price and a great buy. Thanks to Eric for passing this tip along.
- Price Tag with an Asterisk (*) on it - if you can find products ending with a 7, along with an asterisk in the upper right hand corner of the shelf tag, you are getting the best price at Costco. The asterisk means the item is “Pending Delete” and will be removed from the warehouse once it sells out. The above Costco price tag has an asterisk in the upper right hand corner. (Confirmed by Costco CFO Richard Galanti)
- All other pricing - If the price ends with something other than a .99 or 7, it is typically a manufacturer’s special or manager’s special. These ending prices will vary from store to store. I am currently attempting to get more concrete details on these.
- Date Under the Price – In small print, under the price, is a date which tells us when the shelf tag was either created or had a price change. If the item is regularly stocked and has a fairly recent date on the shelf tag, you can typically take that to mean the price was lowered on that date and is a smart buy.
- Bonus: To save even more at Costco, check out our article 10 Best Way to Save Money at Costco.
- Additionally, check out more tips to save at Costco via the “Costco Whisperer” resource Len Rapoport.
Gap & Old Navy
For those of you who are not aware, Gap owns Old Navy and they share the same pricing model. Here is the skinny:
- Prices ending in .47, .49, .97 or .99 - Thanks to current Old Navy employee, John, for this tip. If the price ends with any of these, then the item is marked as clearance or discontinued and is probably the best price you’re going to get. TIP: Keep an eye out for clearance sales where they lower the clearance price by a flat 30% of 40% off. They typically do this at the end of the season to clear out old merchandise.
- Bonus: Check out Rather-Be-Shopping.com for Gap and Old Navy coupons to save even more.
The Home Depot, with it’s cavernous aisles and sporadically dispersed orange apron patriots, has a very simple pricing system. Make sure you drop popcorn on the ground so you can work your way back to the front of the store after you have found your final markdown air compressor. Here is all you need to know:
- Prices ending in .06 - Former Home Depot employee, “George”, who use to perform all the price changes at the Home Depot where he worked, told me that any price ending in .06 is a clearance item and has 6 weeks to go until the next price change (which will be lower). These are typically printed on a yellow price tag.
- Prices ending in .03 - “George” then told me that stuff that still doesn’t sell out after 6 weeks will be lowered again to a price ending in .03. This means that after 3 weeks the item will go away forever. These are also printed on a yellow tag. Look at the date printed on the bottom of the price tag to determine when it was printed as it’s an excellent indicator of when the item will get marked down again or be removed from the warehouse.
- Bonus: Here at Rather-Be-Shopping.com we are also given Home Depot coupon codes which can typically be used on clearance products. Try and combine a clearance item ending in .03 or .06 with a coupon for extra savings.
I have new information from a store manger who wanted to stay anonymous. She gave me the info on the internal pricing system at JCPenney. Here is the scoop:
- Prices ending in .00 - all items at JCPenney that end in .00 are Full-Price. Make sure you at least have a coupon to get some savings.
- Prices ending in .99 - if the item ends in .99 it is a Clearance price. When you see .99 it means that the specific vendor still owns the product.
- Prices ending in .97 – items ending in .97 (see above picture) are reduced Clearance items. The manager told me that at .97 “JCPenney now owns it and can reprice it to what we’d like before loosing out on money and sending it to liquidation. The .97 is lowered EVERY 2 weeks to 1/2 (half) of the current ticket price. Items will go as low as $2.97 before they’re shipped out of the store.”
- Prices ending in .98 – these were your “2 for” deals. The one I saw was a limited-time deal where if you bought 2 pairs of boxer shorts you paid only $13.98.
- Bonus: Combine a clearance product with a printable JCPenney coupon to save even more cash when shopping in-store.
I was lucky enough to have a Kohl’s employee email me recently to give me the scoop. While Kohl’s does not have a consistent ending price for sale or clearance items you are able to look at the electronic shelf tag to determine what kind of deal you’re getting. Here is what you need to know:
- Check out letters in top Right Corner of digital shelf tag:
- NM = New Markdown. This means that the product will be going on clearance that night/the next day. Wait to purchase and save some money.
- S = Sale Price.
- GV = Great Value. Limited time price drop, usually only lasts 1-2 days. Thanks to Ginger Allen at CBS Dallas for this tip.
- Clearance Items Tip = Clearance is usually marked every other month or so, with additional marks in between. Clearance at Kohl’s is based on quantity of the item, and can vary by color. So let’s say a shirt comes in both blue and red, but there are 25 blues vs 10 reds. The blue would go to 70/80% off while the red would go to 60 off%. Typically, everything starts at 60%, and the lowest it will ever go is 90% off. Also, most clothing items will be labeled as “Limited Quantity” before going clearance at 55-60% off. Also keep in mind, unlike many stores, Kohl’s coupon will work on clearance items unless an item is considered “Prestige”, but that typically applies only to beauty products.
- Bonus: Check out Rather-Be-Shopping.com for a handy Kohl’s coupon for an additional savings up to 20% with free shipping.
The quality of the clothing at Lands’ End makes it a favorite for many families. If you know the code at Lands’ End you can always ensure you’re getting the best deal possible.
- Prices ending in .00 and .50 - Full price at Lands’ End retail locations.
- Price ending in .97 and .99 – These two ending prices mean that you’re getting the item marked down from the original price. Often a clearance or temporary sale item.
- Bonus: Rather-Be-Shopping.com also has updated Lands’ End coupons to help you stack your savings.
Office Depot keeps their pricing strategy a little closer to their vest. Although I did just get some great info from a current Office Depot store manager. Here is what we now know:
- Prices ending in a 1, like .01, .31 - first clearance markdown price.
- Prices ending in a 2, like .02, .42 - second clearance markdown price.
- Prices ending in a 3, like .03, .63 - third clearance markdown price.
- Prices ending in a 4, like .04, .74 - FINAL clearance markdown price.
- All other ending numbers – you’re paying full price.
- Bonus: Check out our online and in-store Office Depot coupons to help you save even more money.
The next time you enter Petsmart you’ll want to pay attention to the cents as well to make sure you’re getting a good deal. Here are the keys to remember:
- Prices ending in 9. For example, .09, .49, or .99 - you’re paying full price on your pet food and supplies.
- Prices ending in 7. For example, .07, .27, .97 - these are your “Reduced to Clear” prices and your best bet. Often times these products are clearly marked as “Clearance” but not always so make sure to pay close attention so a clearance deal doesn’t pass you by.
- Bonus: Save even more when buying stuff for your pets by taking advantage of one of our Petsmart coupons.
Pier 1 Imports
Another retailer where I had success cracking the code was at Pier 1 Imports. Thanks to a helpful employee I was able to decipher the price code structure and what you need to know to get the best deal possible. Here is how it breaks down at Pier 1:
- Prices ending in .95, .00 - these two ending prices mean you’re paying full retail price. Often times they label items and leave off the .00 and just price it at $8. See above picture as an example.
- Prices ending in .98, .48 - here is where you’ll find your savings. Both of these two ending prices signify clearance items. I was not able to determine if one of these provides better savings than the others.
Image Credit: Fat Wallet.com
Thanks to loyal reader Chris for dropping the 411 on the pricing system at Sam’s Club. Here is what you need to know:
- Prices ending in a 1 (as in $8.71 or $125.01) - Item is a sale price and on clearance.
- Check letter on the Shelf Tag - Typically, there is a letter next to the item number in the upper right hand corner of the shelf tag. Here is what they mean: A = Active Item (Something that they normally carry) N = Never-Out (Item should always be in-stock) C = Canceled (Store will no longer carry the item. If it’s not already clearance priced, it will be soon if not sold out)
- Display Models – Ask a manager for a discount on a display model marked with a C on the shelf tag. If it is the last one in the store you can almost always get a 20% discount on the item.
Sears has a pricing system that can really save you money if you use it correctly. When making a significant purchase be sure to buy only when the price is at clearance or final markdown. This is especially true when buying electronics, patio furniture and lawn mowers. NOTE: This only works in-store and not at Sears.com.
- Prices ending in .99 - you’ll be paying full retail price, hope you have a Sears coupon at the very least.
- Prices ending in .97 - this is the price of a discontinued item on clearance. The price could go down even further.
- Prices ending in .88 – this is the final markdown price and your best possible deal at Sears.
- Bonus: Also, use one of our online or printable coupons for Sears to maximize your savings.
Target (aka Tar-zhay)
Target, the favorite store for those who think they’re above Walmart, is a good place to put your code cracking skills to the test. Thanks to Snopes for helping set the record straight with Target price tags. Here is what you need to know in order to get the best deal:
- Prices ending in .99 – that is full price baby!
- Prices ending in 8, as in .98, .88, etc. – this is a marked down price of an item on clearance.
- Prices ending in 4, as in .24, .04, etc. - this also is a marked down price of an item on clearance. At one point this was considered the final markdown price but that is not accurate anymore.
- Check out the tiny print! - check out the above image of the Target price tag. See the tiny number in the circle I drew? That is the markdown percentage of the item from the original price. In this example it says 50, as in 50% off the original price. Target marks down items by the following increments, 15%, 30%, 50%, 75% and 90% off. Typically an item will stay at the current markdown percentage for 10-14 days before getting marked down further.
- Bonus: We are also given new Target coupons on a weekly basis. Use one of them to save even more money.
Ask the Reader: Have you noticed any other internal pricing strategies that retailers use? If so, what are they? Let’s make this the definitive shoppers guide to cracking the price tag code. I look forward to your comments.
Bonus! – Printable ‘Crack the Price Tag Code’ Cheat Sheet for your Wallet or Purse
To print cheat sheet, or save it to your computer, do one of the following:
- Right click on below cheat sheet and click “Print” or “Save Image As” to save it to your computer for future reference.
- Or click on the cheat sheet to open it in a new window then click on the “Print” or “Save” icon.
- Once you’ve printed it just cut along the perforated lines and fold it to the size of a business card.
Final Note: This article is for informational purposes only and is constantly being updated. If you know of any changes that need to be made, or have information on new stores, please Contact Me and let me know. Thanks!
By Kyle James
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