When a bargain isn’t a bargain

Posted by TEBI on November 9, 2020

When a bargain isn’t a bargain




The retail sector is having a tough time and one response has been to try to attract buyers with special sales and discounts. And they’re not your standard 10 or 15 per cent off but sometimes discounts in the order of 50 to 60 per cent. Is it time to nab a bargain?

I’m all for supporting businesses at this difficult time when you can afford to do so. However, that doesn’t mean you should let your consumer sense fly entirely out the window. Sometimes a bargain really is a bargain. Often, though, a supposedly incredible deal means acquiring yet another item we don’t actually need, in which case the “real” cost is higher than we think.

There’s also pricing sleight of hand that’s perfectly legal but which might fool you into thinking you’re nabbing a bargain when you’re not, or that the bargain is bigger than you’re actually getting.


Free delivery

You need a new smart-casual shirt for your Zoom meetings. One of the big online stores has something nice, at £45. But, rats, you’ll have to pay a delivery fee because your shopping cart falls just short of the threshold of £50. So you choose the same shirt in a second colour and there you have it — free delivery! But was it really “free”? No, it cost you £45 — the price of the second shirt, which you weren’t planning to buy and don’t really need. You should have just paid £5 for delivery.


Second pair half price

The trousers cost £60. But the offer says that if you buy another pair the second pair will be half price. Half price! What a bargain. In fact, the same caveat applies as in the first example. But do you really need a second pair of trousers? If you don’t then, in reality, you’re out of pocket £30.

What’s more, do the sums and you’ll see that what you’re actually getting is a 25 per cent discount on your shopping cart — two pairs of trousers for £90 instead of £120 — because you’re still paying top price for the first pair. And yet you’d probably wander past a 30 per cent discount to get to the offer of a second item at “half price”.


Bargain table

There could be a reason something is a bargain. For example, numerous other shoppers have let it pass and now it’s on the end-of-season bargain table. If an item is ridiculously cheap, inspect it carefully. Ask yourself, is it poorly made? Is it worse for wear after months of being picked up and put down? Perhaps it is an unfriendly colour that won’t actually go with much? There’s likely to be a reason it’s unloved and left behind.


Buy it for later

Who’s bought something because it’s insanely cheap now and you’re sure you’ll find a use for it? Then never do. If so, a great piece of advice a professional stylist once gave me was: “If you’re not going to wear it this weekend, don’t buy it — no matter what the price is.”


Original price

Have you even seen a pre-printed tag with words to the effect: “Original price £49.99. Our price £39.99.” Think about it — it’s pre-printed. In all likelihood the item was never sold at £49.99. If an item really has been marked down, its new price will probably take the shape of a neon orange sticker placed haphazardly over the original price.


Cash-back offers

Mail-in rebates, as they’re also known, are infrequent but can be pretty tempting. Potentially sizeable sums are on offer — usually for large electronic items — if you buy at full price then send in a coupon or fill in your purchase details online to claim your rebate. What the manufacturer knows from past experience is that many of us simply won’t make a claim. We forget to apply before the rebate’s deadline. Or we lose the receipt. If you go for this sort of offer be absolutely ruthless about making your claim as soon as humanly possible. If you’re not the organised type, make your purchasing decision based on the full price, not the deal.

There’s an entire science around pricing and businesses use this to their best advantage. Fair enough. You can use it to your advantage too but only if there really is a bargain to be had.


LESLEY GREGORY is an experienced personal finance and consumer journalist. She regular writes for TEBI money and personal finance issues that aren’t directly related to investing.
Also by Lesley Gregory:

How to cut your spending in the crisis

The hidden costs of online shopping

Every purchase has an opportunity cost

How to protect your credit score from COVID

Lasting changes COVID could make to our finances



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