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Loose Change

Random bits of information to add coins to your wallet and wealth to you life.
treasure map

HELP! I need a MAP to navigate prices!

Have you noticed that the prices of certain popular items are the same EVERYWHERE? They either never go on sale or when they do, everyone has them for the same price. It is enough to drive serious bargain hunters crazy. Related, but not quite the same, is trying to comparison shop for computers. No two retailers have the exact same equipment with the same amount of memory, speed, or storage space. When you try to compare it is difficult at best to see who has the better deal.

If you think this feels like a conspiracy against shoppers, you are not alone. It is MAP or price mapping- a little known strategy used by manufacturers to control the advertised pricing for their goods. Minimum Advertised Price policies are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission and are allowed as a means of leveling the playing field for all sellers. It is especially important online where lots of pricing information is available at your fingertips. Most consumers might argue that this practice stifles competition. Price mapping allows small businesses to compete with big box stores by avoiding price cutting wars.

Manufacturers are allowed to control the prices that are ADVERTISED for their products, not the price they are actually sold for and this represents a loophole in the law. Retailers who advertise an unauthorized price risk not getting the merchandise they are advertising. This could create a situation where they run out of a particular item or not able to carry it at all causing ill will amongst their customers.

So how do retailers get around this and how can the consumer benefit? As I mentioned before, it is only the ADVERTISED price, not the selling price that is regulated. Since the manufacturer pays for most advertising under a "co-op" arrangement, retailers will often turn to their online component with an enticement of a price "too low to show" and you then have to put one in your shopping cart to see the actual selling price. Other phrases include "see details at checkout", or "see price in cart." Remember, until you enter in a method of payment and approve the purchase, you are not actually buying the item. Just beware that you do not click on buttons too fast or you might find yourself unintentionally buying an item. I have done that-clicked too fast and purchased a year's subscription I only wanted for a month (I did get the order cancelled and a refund but it took several emails and a couple of weeks before the money was credited to my account).

As a shopper, I find it particularly frustrating to have to put an item in a virtual shopping cart before I can see the sale price. This is especially true if it is at a place I have not shopped regularly and I have to establish an account or put in personal information before getting to the final price portion of the shopping experience. However, doing more exploring, I am finding that sometimes the extra hassle is worth it. If I am just trolling onlineā€¦I probably would not go through the hassle, but if I am looking seriously for an item, I am now willing to go the extra step. I have found some serious savings this way.

One more thing, because these are not advertised prices, they will not show up in price comparison tools, so be sure to do a little extra digging before actually purchasing.

The old saying "time is money" is certainly true here- spend some extra time and reap the savings!

Oh, and put the money you saved into a savings account!

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