HOUSTON - After a roller coaster year for retailer JC Penney with more dips than rises, the embattled department store announced it's bringing back sales. But Local 2 discovered the new sales aren't really sales at all.
Local 2 consumer expert, Amy Davis, went shopping with a hidden camera to show you why you're actually paying more.
To bargain hunters, a "sale" sign is like a siren call. And Michelle McNichols never met a discount she didn't like -- until now.
"I was mad," McNichols told Davis. "I was mad to think they were going to mark it up $13 and tell me I was getting a sale."
The tag from the swimsuit cover-up McNichols bought at JC Penney shows the price is $38. The garment was 30% off, which made the price $26.60. But when McNichols lifted up the $38 sticker, she saw that the real original price of the cover-up was $25.
JC Penney raised the price from $25 to $38 dollars so they could mark it back down again. It meant McNichols paid a $1.60 more than the original price.
"It's the principle," she said. "It's the way they're doing it."
It appears JC Penney is doing it a lot. Local 2 went to two different stores in the Houston area and peeled back price tags to show you.
We found capri pants marked $40 on sale for $29.99. When we peeled back the $40 tag we could see the pants were once $28.
A shirt shows an original price of $26 on sale $17.99. We lifted up the sticker to fine we'd save just one cent from the old JC Penney's price of $18.
Even greeting cards have been marked up. We found one marked $6 that used to be $5.
"You're deceiving the customer," said JC Penney shopper Cindi Raney who has also noticed the mark-ups.
With a hidden camera, we asked a store clerk what's with the fickle pricing.
"You're making consumers think they're getting a good deal when they're getting the same price they could have gotten months ago," Davis said to the clerk.
"And you're absolutely right," she replied. "But try to tell some of the customers that. See, consumers are brainwashed. They believe if they don't have coupons and they don't have sales, they're not getting good deals."
JC Penney's Joey Thomas with JCP's media relations and corporate affairs department confirmed her story in a statement.
"Last year we created an everyday pricing structure that did not resonate with our core customer. While our prices continue to represent a tremendous value, we now understand that customers are motivated by promotions and prefer to receive discounts through sales and coupons applied at checkout. So we are returning to a pricing model that is commonly used in the industry to give customers the value they are looking for when they shop with us."
"The problem with this, a lot of our merchandise already had prices. We had to go back and re-price," said the clerk.
In many instances, it means you'll pay more today, even with a sale, than you would have three months ago with the old prices.
"If the price was $13 and you didn't want to put it on sale, I'd have paid $13 for it," said Raney. "But don't mark it up to charge me more than what the original price was."
Davis asked consumer attorney David Tiede of the University of Houston's Texas Consumer Complaint Center if the new higher prices are deceptive.
"I don't think it's deceptive from a legal perspective," Tiede answered. "But I do believe it's all part of the game of cat and mouse between businesses and consumers to try and get them to buy things."
Tiede said as long as JC Penney isn't advertising "new lower prices" the retailer can change prices as often as they like. It's up to consumers whether they want to buy.
As JC Penney gets in new merchandise, you should see the markups end. The clerk we spoke with said it's only the old low prices that had to be changed. She said when all of that old inventory is cleared out they won't need to re-price.
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