TODAY

TODAY   |  June 19, 2013

Rossen reports: Retailers mislead with ‘sales’

When you see a sign reading 20-, 30-, or 40-percent off you assume you’re getting a deal. But sale prices advertised by major retailers may not be deals at all, and customers are fighting back. NBC’s Jeff Rossen investigates.

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>>> bargain shoppers. some major retailers maybe misleading you with those big sales. today jeff rosson is here with those details.

>> you're a bar gain shopper.

>> if it sounds too good to be true --

>> it probably is. we all love a good sale. when you see the sign 20% off or 30% off or like savannah loves, 50% off, you assume you're getting a good deal but we found that sale price may not be a deal at all. now customers are fighting back with class action lawsuits against two of the country's most popular chains. the alure of the sale. prices too good to pass up and we eat it up.

>> we love a sale.

>> love a sale.

>> buy buy buy.

>> who doesn't love a bar gain.

>> everybody is looking for a bar gain.

>> reporter: but hang on, two major retailers, khols and jcpenney are sued for selling products at regular prices but calling it a sale.

>> we're alleging that savings is false. it's completely made up by the department store .

>> reporter: according to the class action suit against kohls they're an advertising scheme. a campaign to mislead consumers. in many cases the regular price is artificially inflated to make the sale price seem even better.

>> it induces people to buy those products and it works.

>> in fact, our investigator found it's happening at several stores. look at this macy's add for a food processor . regular price , 139.99. sale price , 99.99. sounds like a great deal but we checked with the manufacturer. turns out the sale price is about what the every day price should be anyway. 99.95. no real bargain here. over at jcpenney. check out this vacuum cleaner, regular price , sale price , 649.99. same as the full price suggested by the manufacture.

>> how widespread do you think it is.

>> very widespread.

>> reporter: she is a professor of marketing at nyu.

>> there's a psychology at play. you feel something.

>> you feel smart, you feel happy. you feel you got a great deal and you feel you are special because you manage to get this deal.

>> do you think they're playing on our emotions.

>> they're completely playing on our emotions.

>> jcpenney and kohls had no comment. macys said it sets it's prices independently.

>> i have lost trust in the retailers.

>> you have lost trust in them.

>> as a consequence of this.

>> next time you see the sale sign --

>> i'm going to question it. i'm going to question whether it's a sale.

>> is it illegal to do this?

>> it's murky. there's a law on the books that says an item needs to be sold at a regular price for a significant amount of time. it's vague. it's tough to enforce. the california law says that an item needs to be sold at regular price for three months. there's a specific amount of time it can be sold before it goes on sale. the lawyers filing the class action lawsuits said that did not happen here.

>> assuming you don't want to spend all your day researching prices, how do you know if you're getting a good deal or not?

>> that's a good question. you can protect yourself. before you buy anything, ask the store clerk, was this product ever sold at the regular price ? and how long has it been on sale. if they say it has been on sale for awhile, that's a red flag and of course, we always say comparison shop. that's the best idea. the sale price at one store maybe cheaper at another store.

>> retail psychology. jeff, thank you