Department store found raising prices before sales

When you shop a sale, you hope you're getting the best possible price. But it's not always that simple.

The Problem Solvers found items at a major retailer where the sale price wasn't always the best price.

Discounts were right on the door as customers walked into the Kohl's department store in Redmond. Our Problem Solvers team in Portland also found regular customers lured in by the chain's sale prices.

"(I come) mostly for the sales and the price," said Tim Saeland, a shopper in Beaverton.

But between several Portland and Seattle stores, we found repeated examples of items that had been marked up before they were marked down for those big sales.

A knife set priced at $99 was on sale for $69.99, saving you $30. But the original price tag underneath was $79.99, meaning the savings was really only $10. Boys socks were marked "buy one, get one half off," but not before the price went up by a dollar. We found a sheet set for $159.99, marked down by 60 percent. But it was marked up before going on sale, originally priced at $119.99.

We took the sheet set to the register to ask about the difference, requesting the 60 percent off the original price.

The answer was no.

Our team in Portland did the same thing and at one store was turned down, but at another, our shopper got the better deal. She also found examples where the sale price was actually more than the original price.

Vicki Shamion, Kohl's Senior Vice President of Public and Community Relations told the Problem Solvers, "Price increases at Kohl's are not common; however, the unprecedented increases in the cost of certain commodities such as cotton over the past 24 months, have caused us to take these actions."

Businesses regularly pass along rising production costs to customers, and of course, a store can raise its prices.

We checked with the Washington Attorney General's Office who said it would only be considered "deceptive" pricing if the store didn't first try selling the items at the higher price, for a reasonable amount of time.

Senior Counsel Paula Selis says "You can say to the seller, 50 percent off of what? Did you ever really sell this product at that full 50 percent plus price? If so, how long did you sell it for? Is this really a sale?"

The bottom line for customers: shop smart. You can ask for a better deal at the register. And use the internet to comparison shop. It might be the only way to know if a sale price is a good price.

More information on pricing practices is available online.