Is That A Sale Or A Scam? Find Out How To Tell The Difference

Want to know if that shopping deal is good or not? Learn how to tell if a sale is really a deal, or just a scam. You can use this for online deals, clothing deals, free deals and travel deals. Once you know the signs, you'll save money! Find out how to tell on advertisement I see seems to say that the best deal of the season is happening now. Advertisers want you to come in to their stores today and spend your money now.

Unfortunately, the advertisers are rarely telling you the whole truth. We figured that out for ourselves this past weekend.

As I’ve mentioned in the Money Manifesto Newsletter (sign up here), my wife and I have been looking to make our home our own. Part of that process is getting new furniture for the living room.

That means we’ve been watching Craigslist and browsing furniture stores in our neighborhood for a deal.

What we found was anything but a deal. Here’s our story, followed by ways you can make sure a sale is really a good deal.

Sales Aren’t Always What They Seem

Many months ago we had our eye on a particular living room set at an unnamed big box furniture store.

After much research, we finally narrowed our list down to just a couple of options so we returned to the original sofa we looked at to compare it to our new finds.

Lucky for us, when we walked in this past weekend they were having a sale! We were excited! We might get a great deal on the original sofa we liked…

So we walked over to the living room set we were considering and looked at the price. The salesman explained that the prices in red were sale prices and they would be ending on Monday so we should act fast if we wanted this great deal. Naturally, I was skeptical and thought that the salesman was just trying to earn his commission quickly.

I’m glad I was skeptical, because the sale was a complete joke. See, the last time we went in this store we took a picture of the price sheet so we would be able to compare the price to other options.

The original photo we had showed the sofa at full price. We compared the sale price to the full price and we laughed as we told the salesman the sale was a joke.

The sales price of this sofa was was exactly 1% off of full retail price. Not 25%, not 15%, not 10%, only 1% off. That wouldn’t even cover the sales tax on the transaction. Of course, upon realizing that, we no longer felt the urgency to make a decision quickly.

Retailers Want To Make The Sale Today

As you can see, retailers will do just about anything to get you in their stores and make the sale today. While I do think the store did legitimately have other pieces on sale for more than just 1% off full retail price, it is clear that everyone needs to be as educated of a consumer as they can be when dealing with sales.

How To Make Sure You’re Getting A Deal

Due to retailers tricking us, we need to make sure we’re really getting a deal. The first thing you should do is ask yourself if you really want the item you’re considering purchasing. If the answer is no, it isn’t a deal no matter how big or small the sale is.

After you determine whether you want it or not, make sure you consider whether or not you’d actually use the item. Just because you think you want something doesn’t mean you’ll actually use it. If you never use it, you just wasted a bunch of money. Think about the motorcycle or boat you have in your garage that you never use.

Another way to make sure you’re getting a deal is to check what the normal price of the product is. You can normally find this in most cases right in the store, but if you can’t find the normal price ask a customer service representative or look up the information on your own.

You’ll want to price check the item against other sources to make sure the store didn’t artificially inflate the original price to make it look like you’re getting an amazing deal when you’re not.

You can check other retailers that sell the same item or compare pieces that are similar if there are no exact matches. We use my wife’s Republic Wireless phone to check prices online while we’re in stores.

Finally, you’ll want to make sure you can actually afford whatever purchase you’re considering making. You should be able pay for the item in full on the day you make the purchase. Make sure you aren’t buying anything frivolous if you’re still deep in consumer debt.

Once you make sure you can really afford it and you aren’t getting scammed, enjoy the deal you found!

What’s the best example you’ve ever seen of a scammy sale? Were you able to sniff it out before you made the purchase? How did you figure it out? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below so others can avoid these fake sales that are solely run to pressure people into buying today.

Photo by: Peter Kamanski Text added by: Lance Cothern

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. That’s amazing. Did you really tell him? I’m curious to hear his response.

    • We mentioned it briefly and the guy seemed kind of shocked. Didn’t offer much of an explanation but we didn’t expect one. Then he went on talking about other things.

  2. There was a recent 20/20 with Robert Herjevac explaining the top 5 ways to close a deal, and how to spot these out when they’re being used (or misused) on you as the buyer. They include urgency, giving a concession, compliments, “artisan” quality, and high demand. Another thing to notice is price anchoring. The normal retail price of most items is kind of ridiculous and leaves room for “super sales” which really just bring the price down into a reasonable range.

  3. Oh, this is nothing .. let me tell you how some of the big stores in Romania are having ‘Black Friday’ (yes, we ‘imported’ your holiday, even if it has no meaning to us): few weeks/days before the sale, they increase the prices for the items that will go on sale. Say 25%, 30% etc. Then, on Black Friday, magically the prices are smaller (usually back at their initial value or a little higher).

    Some of the ‘diehards’ for BF took photos for the items they were watching and it allowed them to see the ‘strategy’. Sure, it doesn’t happen at all items, but no year goes by that we don’t have such ‘reports’ from potential buyers

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