LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Stores are constantly trying to lure customers with the promise of big sales. So how do you know if you're really getting the lowest price? The answer may lie in a code hidden on the price tags you see every time you're at a store.
Our shopping expert says the key to saving dollars all comes down to the cents. Sales are the Holy Grail for penny-wise consumers.
Californian Kyle James of the shopping blog rather-be-shopping.com says he's unlocked a secret to saving money. James says he has translated the internal language a number of major retailers use to code sale items.
"It really empowers the consumers to figure out what kind of a discount this is," James said.
The first key isn't what the price starts with, but what it ends with -- the change to the price after the decimal point instead of before the decimal point, according to James.
WAVE 3 News went shopping and put James' theory to the test. At Costco, where contrary to popular belief, not everything is on sale, James said only prices that end in 7 or .97 have been marked down.
If you see a price tag with an asterisk, James says that means the item won't be restocked to clear space.
If you find both of those markings together, you're really saving money.
"I've done the research, and it's typically 20 to 30 percent cheaper than anywhere else you're going to find it," James said.
We found a $39.97 coffee maker with an asterisk at Costco priced at $74.99 online. That's a 47 percent savings.
At Kohl's, James said to look for the small letter in the right hand corner of the digital price display. It's a code even one Kohl's employee didn't know about.
"No, I don't know what that means," the Kohl's employee told our secret shopper.
James says an "S" on the digital display stands for an ongoing sale price that doesn't have a time limit. A "GV" means "great value," which indicates a limited time price drop. Consumers should act fast on a GV before the price goes back up.
At Target, consumers have to read the fine print in the top right hand corner of clearance tags to know what kind of bargain they're getting.
A "30" means 30 percent off, "50" stands for 50 percent and so on.
If you're interested in a clearance item that has a lot of inventory but a small discount, patience will be a virtue.
"Every 10 to 14 days they mark stuff down," James said," so wait, come back, you know it's going to be marked down even further."
James admits this is not an exact science. His blog says Target prices ending in .99 are full price, but we found a number of items ending in .99 at Target that were on sale.
In addition, at JCPenney, where James believes anything ending in .00 is full price, that is not the case.
James said he constantly updates the information on his blog.
"Knowledge is power, and for consumers, we really need to shop smart and make sure we're getting the best deal," James said.
He hopes shoppers use his forum to share tips and insight so everyone knows what the numbers on the price tag say about how much you pay.
James also has tips for cracking price tag codes at other stores, including Sam's Club, Home Depot, PetSmart and more. You can find all of his tips and a cheat sheet to carry with you while you shop by clicking here.
WAVE 3 News reached out to a number of the stores to see what they had to say about James' claims. Target spokesman Evan Lapiska said in a statement:
"At Target, we use a number of different factors to determine the price for an item. The ending digit of a clearance price is determined by several factors including the original retail price and the applied percentage discount. It is not possible to determine the final markdown or timing of the price change from the item's current price."
WAVE 3 News is still waiting to hear from some of the other companies.
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