Let the buyer beware


It seems to me that we are besieged with all kinds of gimmicks, some almost tricks, designed to get us to spend our money on some particular goods or services.

Oh, sure, we know advertising is critical for most businesses, and shrewd shoppers go over ads to determine which offer to take over another by comparing prices, quality, and quantity. One maneuver businesses may use is to offer “loss leaders,” that is, something that is sold cheaply or below cost to attract customers — a useful scheme for business and a means for careful consumers to save on those items.

I know I tend to “cherry pick” those “specially priced” offerings whether at a grocery, hardware, or “big box” store — but that’s not what this is about. Nope, I’m looking at offers that may or may not deliver exactly what they appear to. One stratagem is the “percent off” ploy where the store offers such and such a “percent off” the listed price for purchases — I’ll use 10 percent as an example. If you buy $100 worth of merchandise, you should expect to pay only $90, that is, the listed price minus the 10 percent off. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Sorry ‘bout that, but that isn’t the way this particular tactic works.

You see, the customer pays full price and is given a mail-in rebate form for that particular transaction which must be submitted in order to get the “percent off” amount. Proper submission of the form results in the customer receiving a voucher for that sum which may be used only at that company’s stores toward purchase of other items — the voucher is not good anywhere else. Does the buyer actually get the advertised “percent off” of the purchase? Well, kind of in a way, I suppose, but if the amount of the purchase is relatively small, say $10-15, would the customer go through the bother and expense of the rebate procedure or simply forget it?

Makes a body wonder.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some straight-forward “percent off’ or rebate offers. We “seasoned citizens” are often given an immediate price break on our purchases with the specific percentage and applicable times varying from business to business. Then, too, some companies such as home improvement centers and hardware stores give a “military discount” for active duty military and veterans.

Some stores offer an immediate “in-store” rebate on some merchandise while openly advertising some mail-in rebates resulting in actual checks that may be cashed. I don’t consider these to be gimmicks or sleight of hand, just ways of increasing customer satisfaction and repeat business. Credit and debit cards provide a fertile field for all kinds of come-ons. One of our credit card companies offers 5 percent back on all motor vehicle fuel purchases — with lesser percentages for other types of charges. With gas prices above $2 that amounts to over $.10 a gallon — pretty good bargain, right? Well, yes and no.

You see the amount we “get back” isn’t deducted from our monthly credit card bill. Nope, it goes into a kind of escrow account and then once a year we are notified of how much we have accumulated — which may then be applied as payment on our current balance or as credit for future purchases. No actual cash back.

On the other hand, another of our credit cards awards “points” for purchases. These points may be used to redeem various goods and services — including prepaid debit cards that are as good as cash. Works for us.

I’m not sure about those BOGO (buy one get one) offers. In some cases the prices of these items appear to have been raised above their regular level but you have to know what the “regular” price is. Then, too, I sometimes take advantage of offers that feature discounts if the customer purchases a given number of items from a selection, such as buying five from a given group results in a dollar off each. It depends on what’s in the group — and if I have a need for those items.

A number of stores offer special prices or discounts for their “card holders” — another technique to draw and keep customers. In addition, one very large grocery chain also awards “points” that may be redeemed for price reduction at the gas pump with each 100 points resulting in $.10 a gallon off.

Each little bit helps.

You know, the term “caveat emptor” (Latin for “let the buyer beware”) has long been a proverb in our culture. Generally, it arises from the fact that buyers typically have less information than the seller about the goods or services they are purchasing. And there’s another old saying, “If some offer sounds too good to be true, it may be just that — too good to be true.” Both remind us that smart shopping will pay off in the long run.

At least that’s how it seems to me.


Bill Taylor

Bill Taylor, a regular contributing columnist and local area resident, may be contacted at [email protected].

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