Have you ever been staring at that awesome blender at Sam’s Club, dreaming of blending your fruit smoothie with ease, and notice the odd price tag of $125.01 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 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.
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.
- Look for Code “C” – If you see a price tag with a small “C” in the lower right-hand corner, it means the item is clearance and no longer stocked. I have it on good authority that managers are able to give discounts on these products, so be sure to negotiate an even better price.
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.
Dick’s Sporting Goods
The pricing system at Dick’s is fairly straight forward and can be used to easily avoid paying full price. Here’s the 411:
- Prices ending in .00 or .99 – Indicates full-price. Avoid if you can.
- Prices ending in .93 or .97 – These are clearance items and indicates that an item has been marked-down from the original price.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- BGH = Buy one, get one for half off.
- PP = Price Point. Language used for internal reasons to help employees place specific ad graphics and toppers on products.
- BB = Bonus buy.
- 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.
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 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.
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
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.
- S = Seasonal – Item will be replenished a few times before it’s gone for good or until next year.
- O = One Time Buy – If you see an “O” and want it, buy it. Usually they only get one shipment of it, rarely is it replenished.
- 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.
- Always Check the Date on the Price Sign – Check the bottom of the sign, there is a date printed on it. The date is when the sign was last printed. Really handy for watching those markdowns and trying to get it for the best price. Thanks Jenn for this tip!
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.
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 70, as in 70% off the original price.
Target marks down items by the following increments, 15%, 30%, 50%, 70% and 90% off. Clothing and Shoes are marked down at 30%, 50% and then 70% (and then go salvage).
Seasonal Items goes 30, 50, 70, and only the non-”big name” items go to 90.
Everything else goes 15, 30, 50, 70 and then salvage. (Thanks Jen for the updated tip!)
Typically an item will stay at the current markdown percentage for 10-14 days before getting marked down further.
Thanks to an anonymous TJ Maxx employee, I got the inside scoop on their clearance price tags:
- Red Markdown Tag – The red markdown tags are the standard clearance tags. Items can be marked down more than once using red tags just depending on how many “cycles” they stay in the store for.
- Yellow Markdown Tag – Yellow tags are typically final clearance and can be used for special clearance events, like changing out seasons. These are usually the best deals as the store is trying to get this merchandise out ASAP to make space for the new season’s stock, but these are only used a few times a year.
- Purple Markdown Tag – Purple tags indicate that the item was featured on the runway during Fashion Week. While the prices might not beat a red or yellow tag, they’re still a lot cheaper than shopping at major department stores like Nordstrom, Saks, or Bloomingdales.
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 let me know. Thanks!
By Kyle James