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Retailer’s Big Secret: Crack the Price Tag Code

September 24, 2013 by Kyle 26 comments   •   Filed Under

(Updated 4/08/14)

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.

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.

Costco Wholesale

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. Here is what I discovered:

  • Prices ending in .99 - this is the full retail price of items at Costco.
  • Prices ending in a 7, namely .97 - means it is a buyer designated markdown and offers substantial savings over the full retail price.
  • 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.
  • 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 Len Rapoport’s “Ultimate Guide for Costco Shoppers”

[Click to Print a Wallet Sized PDF Cheat-Sheet of the Price Codes]

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.

Home Depot

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 a 6. like .06, .66 - that is the final markdown and lowest price you are going to EVER get on the item. Buy!
  • Item with Green Shelf Tag - if the item has a price tag printed on a green tag you’re also getting the lowest price possible. This typically means it is a clearance item and once it’s gone, it’s gone.

JCPenney

JCPenney Price Tag

A friendly store associate 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 and typically a good deal.
  • Prices ending in .97 – items ending in .97 (see above picture I took) are also Clearance or “Reduced” items. At the JCPenney I visited these items were all a larger percentage off the original price than the .99 clearance items. While the employee I talked to would not confirm or deny this information, it seemed to hold true throughout 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.

Kohl’s

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.
  • 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.

Lands’ End

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.

Office Depot

Office Depot keeps their pricing strategy a little closer to their vest. They don’t have a final markdown price but they will keep lowering clearance pricing until certain merchandise is gone. Here is what we do know:

  • Prices ending in .00, .99, or .50 - you’re paying full price again, shame on you!
  • Prices ending in everything except .00, .99, or .50 - these are you’re marked down items. The example in the above picture is a price of $13.01 and $34.01, both markdown products.

Petsmart

Petsmart Price Tag

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.

Pier 1 Imports

Pier 1 Price Tag

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.

[Click to Print a Wallet Sized PDF Cheat-Sheet of the Price Codes]

Sam’s Club


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

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.

  • 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.

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.

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.

Click to Print Cheat Sheet
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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Comments

26 Responses to “Retailer’s Big Secret: Crack the Price Tag Code”

  1. Charles@gettingarichlife.com on September 24th, 2013 5:17 pm

    Best Buy will now price match you in the store what Amazon offers. You only got to look it up on your phone. Walmart requires the advertisement printed out.
    Charles@gettingarichlife.com recently posted…Negative Net Worth Means You’re Paying To WorkMy Profile

    [Reply]

    Kyle Reply:

    Hey Charles, thanks for stopping by! I see the trend of brick & mortar stores price matching online only stores to continue to grow. To compete, it needs to be done!

    [Reply]

  2. julia @ howmuchcost.org on September 24th, 2013 6:29 pm

    I shop at Costco all the time! These are great tips!! I’m gonna check out your other posts. Thanks again!
    julia @ howmuchcost.org recently posted…How Much Does It Cost To Rebuild an Engine?My Profile

    [Reply]

    Kyle Reply:

    Thanks Julia. It is really cool to know if you are getting the best deal possible!

    [Reply]

  3. Andrew@LivingRichCheaply on September 24th, 2013 7:27 pm

    Wow that is very interesting. I never noticed the internal pricing. I go to Tar Zhay all the time and will have to look out for stuff with prices ending in .04. Definitely good info to have. Thanks.
    Andrew@LivingRichCheaply recently posted…Sunday Update and RoundupMy Profile

    [Reply]

    Kyle Reply:

    Yeah, .04 is where it’s at! While those deals may not be readily available, it is worth knowing for sure.

    [Reply]

  4. Taynia | The Fiscal Flamingo on September 25th, 2013 2:28 am

    I am not normal so I can often be found staring at a price tag wondering if the price will go lower. And if so, trying to figure out where I can stash my loot to keep it safe from my fellow bargain shoppers. This is awesome. I need to print it out and put it in my wallet.
    Taynia | The Fiscal Flamingo recently posted…A Method You’ve Never Heard Of That Will Catapult Your Journey To Debt FreedomMy Profile

    [Reply]

    Kyle Reply:

    Oh good, I’m glad I’m not the only non-normal person here…Glad this article will help!

    [Reply]

  5. DC @ Young Adult Money on September 25th, 2013 4:06 am

    Thanks for the Home Depot tip in particular. I always wonder if the prices will be marked down further.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted…Three Amazing Things to Buy in IndiaMy Profile

    [Reply]

    Kyle Reply:

    Another Home Depot tip is to examine the clearance item and check for any imperfections and if you find any, ask an associate for another 15% off. When I worked at HD we were trained to offer discounts on imperfect items to move them out!

    [Reply]

  6. Laura Raisanen on September 25th, 2013 3:44 pm

    Hey Kyle,

    Wow, thanks for denormalizing me! These are fantastic tips, I’m actually going to pay attention to this and see if it also works in the UK. I think it probably will.

    Thanks for sharing :)

    Laura
    Laura Raisanen recently posted…10 Tips To Become A Successful BloggerMy Profile

    [Reply]

    Kyle Reply:

    Hey Laura, don’t mention it, it’s just part of my job. ;-)

    I am guessing this would work in the UK, seems most big stores have an internal pricing system. Thanks for coming by!

    [Reply]

  7. Romona @Monasez on September 26th, 2013 8:03 am

    I actually worked at target a while back and I didn’t even know how the pricing system worked. This is good information.
    Romona @Monasez recently posted…How to Get the Job Before GraduationMy Profile

    [Reply]

  8. Kim@Eyesonthedollar on September 26th, 2013 7:12 pm

    Can you make that into a little laminated credit card size thing that I can keep in my wallet? I love knowing the code. I will especially use this at Target and Home Depot.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted…Make Christmas Shopping Affordable, Starting NowMy Profile

    [Reply]

    Kyle Reply:

    Hey Kim, you just gave me an awesome idea – thanks!

    [Reply]

  9. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer on October 4th, 2013 5:00 am

    Umm, Kyle, in case you didn’t know, it’s called Tar-zhay BOUTIQUE. Get it straight! :-) Seriously, though, I HAD NO IDEA! Thanks for the awesome money saving secrets. I’m so excited to shop now!
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted…How to Save Money: Love Your Pets, Just Not at Full PriceMy Profile

    [Reply]

    Kyle Reply:

    I stand corrected, thanks Laurie…haha

    [Reply]

  10. Chris on November 22nd, 2013 2:49 pm

    At Sam’s club if the item ends in 1 as in $8.21 then that item is on clearance. Also there is usually a letter next to the item number in the upper right hand corner of the shelf tag. A=Active item (something that they normally carry. N=Neverout (item should always be in stock. C=Canceled (store will no longer be carrying the item and if it’s not clearance priced yet it will be soon if it’s still in stock). Also you can get a 20% discount on the displays if the item is canceled and it is the last one in the store. And as said above if there is any form of damage you can usually get an extra discount. The managers are usually willing to take money off just to get rid of the stuff. P.S. This does not apply to “Code 2″ items (the stuff with the orange markdown stickers. Those have prices that already reflect any damage to the item.

    [Reply]

    Kyle Reply:

    Great info on Sam’s Club, thanks Chris!

    [Reply]

  11. femmefrugality on December 6th, 2013 10:36 pm

    THIS IS AWESOME! I pinned the information for Target before, but this is so comprehensive. Thank you!!!!
    femmefrugality recently posted…How to Write A Successful Scholarship EssayMy Profile

    [Reply]

  12. Cheryl McDaniel on February 7th, 2014 1:44 pm

    If you don’t want to carry around another card in your wallet, then do what I do…either just bookmark this on your smart phone OR copy it into your NOTES section/app on your phone or take a picture of the list with your phone so that you always have it with you…because who doesn’t have their phone with them at the store??

    [Reply]

    Kyle Reply:

    I love you Cheryl…hope you’re cool with that. :-) Both great ideas. Maybe I can turn it into a smartphone “Note” that can be added easily to your iPhone or Android. Anyone know anything about doing something like that?
    Kyle recently posted…3 Ways to Make Sure You Never Get Punched in the Genitals at WalmartMy Profile

    [Reply]

  13. Sis Gullett on February 21st, 2014 10:40 pm

    Hey Kyle, Do you suppose that now that we all know the secrets to the codes, they all will change them to something different?

    [Reply]

    Kyle Reply:

    Hi Sis, I don’t foresee the stores changing their pricing structure because of my article. But if they do for some other reason I’ll just keep the article updated with the newest information!
    Kyle recently posted…We Got Cute Kids on the Rather-Be-Shopping.com Farm! – Goat Update #4My Profile

    [Reply]

  14. Kyle W on April 3rd, 2014 3:47 pm

    As a former Home Depot employee, I want to let you know that the green tags are NOT discount tags. Rather, they let employees know that they are dangerous chemicals that are not allowed to be stocked in the overhead storage above the aisle. Just FYI so people don’t think the pool chemicals are on sale!

    [Reply]

    Kyle Reply:

    Interesting. I am also a former Home Depot employee who worked in the paint department with lots of dangerous chemicals and paint strippers and none had a green tag. Green tags were on products that were not going to be re-stocked and often, but not always, were discounted. Maybe it was outdoor garden specific which is where they stock the hydrochloric acid, chlorine and such??

    [Reply]

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