Sears Kicks Off Holiday Weekend With False Advertising

UPDATE: Sears Changes Its Mind About The Definition Of “All”
Like many consumers, reader Nazar hoped to get in on some money saving deals over the holiday weekend. He spotted this advertisement (pictured above) in the Sunday paper for Sears, which clearly reads “ALL Garage storage on sale, 50% off – excludes closeouts.” Nazar headed down to Sears and picked out a garage storage unit, (not on closeout) but at checkout the Sears manager refused to give him 50% off citing that the sale was for the pictured unit only. Nazar’s letter and our advice, inside…

This advertisement was in the Sunday paper in Northern New Jersey. I was in sore need of some garage storage and so was happy to see that Sears was offering all garage storage at 50% off. After heading to the Sears at Paramus Park Mall and picking the units we wanted (none of which were closeout) we were told that only the cabinet pictured was ringing up at 50% off and that all other units (under the same brand-name) were on sale for 20%. We showed the ad to our salesman, who read it and understood it to mean that all garage storage was half off.

He called the manager to confirm. The manager, Edna, said that the ad clearly indicated that only the pictured cabinet was half off and that we would have to pay more for the other units. I explained to Edna that without the benefit of her explanation a person at home would understand the ad to mean that all storage was half off and accused Sears of deliberately making the ad ambiguous to draw in unwitting customers. She conceded that it was reasonable for me to understand the ad to mean all garage storage was half off but refused to honor it.

I believe that the ad is incredibly misleading but wanted you guys to take a look and see if you agree. The ad is good until through Tuesday. Just wanted to warn others out there not to fall for the same trap.

Your site does consumers a great service. Keep on fighting the good fight.

Best,

Nazar

We have scrutinized the entire advertisement page and we can find nothing that would indicate that the sale applies to pictured items only. Unless the word “all” has some alternate definition, we are afraid you are the victim of false advertising. We can’t say that Sears did this intentionally but at the very least, the manager made a mistake. We recommend filing a complaint with the attorney general’s office in New Jersey. Here you can find the form needed to file the complaint. Maybe Sears will soon realize why ALL customers are shopping elsewhere.

Comments

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  1. tedyc03 says:

    Assume for a moment the manager is right…

    …no, wait, I can’t make an argument based off that.

    Yeah man, you got shafted. I’d complaint to the AG and maybe your local media outlet.

  2. Devidence says:

    I can see it, but it’s not written very clearly whether it was intentional or not.

    “All garage storage on sale.” Then another statement of “50% off unit pictured.” I would be willing to bet the rest of the ad is the same way, you can see they say ALL and then have a unit pictured with a price. The rest aren’t as misleading though.

  3. Who’s to say that Edna lied and the cabinet Nazar wanted should have been 50% off, but the manager didn’t feel like honoring the correctly worded ad?

  4. Communist Pope says:

    Dear lord I hate Sears. A store in Maryland once called the cops on me because I bought a television with an out-of-state license. The license was admittedly in pretty sad condition due to normal wear and tear. They took this sad condition to mean it must be a fake and I was trying to scam them. So instead of asking if I had any additional ID, they secretly called the cops while I was waiting for them to bring the paid-for TV back from storage.

    The cops came, I was hassled for 30 minutes, and when everyone realized my ID was perfectly legitimate I had them refund the purchase and left without the TV. And I will never, ever shop at Sears again.

    As to the case above? All means all. There are no variant definitions for it. Die Sears die, k?

  5. BStu says:

    Okay, I get why he thought that, but I also don’t think that’s what the ad says. They ad should have been more clear, certainly, but it just says that all garage storage is on sale. Indeed, they clearly use a different formulation on the grills where they are all a percentage off. They should have moved the 50% off or made the lettering smaller to distance it from the “All on sale” message, but being fair it is broken up by the “excluding close-outs” so I get why the person who designed/signed off on the design didn’t see the potential confusion. Frankly they are more deceptive in their use of the word “ALL”. Every time they use “all” on the flier, there is an exception. On the grills, they are pretty significant exceptions. “All” has a pretty clear meaning and I might excuse them on the close-outs, but the grills exclude Weber grills. That noticeably limits the definition of all.

  6. IphtashuFitz says:

    “It depends on what the meaning of the words ‘is’ is.” – Bill Clinton

    “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘all’ is.” – Sears

  7. beavis88 says:

    Call your Attorney General, pronto.

  8. ElijahDProphet says:

    “…but refused to honor the it.”

    I hate when places refuse to honor the it.

    Anyway. The add is not built very well, clearly, however I can see what the intention of the advertisement was. Back in my retail management days I would likely have given the guy the 50% off, assuming that he would be in the minority of people to view the flier that way.

  9. @kidjesus: As to the case above? All means all. There are no variant definitions for it. Die Sears die, k?

    Would it be appropriate to say that you want Sears to DieHard?

  10. jpdanzig says:

    I’ve been an advertising copywriter for more than 25 years, and when you say, “ALL GARAGE STORAGE ON SALE 50% OFF (excluding closeouts)” — yes, the shopper was right and should have gotten the 50% discount. Shame on Sears and the block-headed store manager who “explained” the ad.

  11. MeOhMy says:

    They could have fixed it by just saying “All Garage Storage On Sale UP TO 50% Off” As it is, it reads all garage storage is half-price, only exception being closeouts, and this pictured cabinet is an example of one of the many half-price items.

  12. Propaniac says:

    I looked at the ad before reading the article and it clearly appeared to say that all garage storage was 50% off. Now that I’ve read the comments, I can understand how the “50% off” was probably intended to refer only to the item shown, but the ad doesn’t really SAY that. It says “50% off” and then it says “Shown: Ultimate blahblahblah.” The other ads also say “Shown: Suchandsuch” without large proclamations about the discounts on those specific items. It would have been a slight improvement to put the “50% off” after the description of the item shown; as it is, the ad is very, very vague in indicating whether the “50% off” is referring to the “All Garage Storage” above or the “Shown: Ultimate blahblahblah” below. The biggest clue is that tiny little speck of a period after “closeouts.”

  13. ElijahDProphet says:

    @jpdanzig: Thats not what it says though. it says “All Storage On Sale. Excluding Closeouts. 50% Off Shown Ultimode…”

    The font sizes are poorly chosen and a store manager SHOULD have helped out the customer in this case, however the advertisement WAS misread.

  14. techstar25 says:

    The add has two (poorly written) sentences:
    Sentence 1: ALL Garage Storage on sale Excludes Closeouts.
    Sentence 2: 50% Off

    One could argue that Sentence 1 was referring to all being on sale, and some apparently for 20% off.
    It’s bad writing. They should have just written it like the grills to the left “ALL Grills 20% off regular prices”. That statement is clear. The other is not.

  15. ilikemoney says:

    Isn’t this a text book example of “Bait and Switch”?

  16. milk says:

    A Dodge dealership did this to my father. He took the paper with him when he purchased his truck, and he had to fight with them just so they would honor the advertised APR.

  17. friendlynerd says:

    To anyone defending this ad: Sears is probably hiring, and you’re just their type.

  18. UnicornMaster says:

    People still shop at Sears?

  19. dragonvpm says:

    That ad isn’t just poorly worded, I’d say it’s intentionally worded in such a way as to mislead people. Upon careful analysis of how the ad is constructed and worded I can see what they were getting at, but I don’t think most people out there could honestly say that they would look at the ad and automatically come up with the “correct” interpretation if they weren’t looking for it.

    Given that it’s for items that you are likely to buy as a group, it seems clear that Sears is hoping that you walk into the store, spend an hour or two figuring out your garage storage situation, pick out several cabinets and then either you don’t notice that the discount was only 20% or that, if you do, you won’t walk away from the purchase given the time you’ve already spent figuring out what you’re going to buy.

    I seriously doubt this was a “mistake” and as such I think they should be called on it.

  20. homerjay says:

    Oh come on! Whine much? CLEARLY this ad is telling you that ALL Garage Storage is ON SALE with the exception of the 50% of it which is OFF sale!

    Couldn’t be any clearer to me.

  21. bonzombiekitty says:

    @ilikemoney: No. Because technically, the ad doesn’t actually say all garage storage units are 50% off. The “excludes closeout items” separates the “all garage units on sale” phrase with the “50% off” phrase. It would be bait and switch if it said “All garage units on sale 50% off (excludes closeout items)”. That separation of the phrases changes the meaning of things.

    It’s poorly worded, and a good manager probably should have just given the discount, but I don’t think it falls under bait and switch. The ad is probably poorly designed both on purpose and by accident. There’s no question ad designers set things up to make you think sales apply more liberally than they actually do if you look at an ad at an glance.

  22. newfenoix says:

    Where are the moles????? Where are the OP blamers???

  23. HanClinto says:

    @Propaniac: I can see your point, and I think it has merit.

    Especially when you compare and contrast where the “50% off” segment is with the “20% off” from the grills, I can see how it makes sense to apply the 50% off only to the shown item.

  24. PinUp says:

    Sooo… If only the pictured model is actually 50% off, then why does the description start with “Shown:…”? I decipher ads for customers almost every day, and every time I’ve seen language like “Shown:” it means “All widgets in said category are on sale for the price/deal, here is a description of the particular widget in the picture.”

    Further, if the pictured item is the only particular item that is 50% off, then why the need to note exclusions? In that case everything that’s not that item would be excluded, so it would be moot to list closeouts.

    It seems the manager felt some need to defeat the customer, and was thinking the customer would figure 20% off was good enough and take it for that. Bad manager!

  25. greenpepper says:

    It is poorly designed, but clearly there is a period after “excludes closeouts”. Add a space between that and the 50% and it’s obvious that the unit shown is just an example of the savings which, for this item, is 50%.

    Because of the period, the 50% reflects savings of the shown item.

  26. bonzombiekitty says:

    @PinUp:

    Further, if the pictured item is the only particular item that is 50% off, then why the need to note exclusions? In that case everything that’s not that item would be excluded, so it would be moot to list closeouts.

    It’s saying all garage units are on sale, except the closeouts, and the one pictured is 50% off. According to the story, all the garage storage units ARE on sale at 20% off.

  27. graymulligan says:

    It’s a horribly written Ad, but the manager is right.

    All garage storage units were on sale. 20% off, from the sound of it.

    The unit pictured, is 50% off. (I’ guessing it’s a “clearance” deal) Those 2 things are seperated by the “excludes closeouts” line. 2 seperate things going on there.

    The grill ad to the left of that is setup the same way, I’m suprised noone’s noticed it. It says that all grills are 20% off, but clearly shows a unit that’s originally 279.99, but it’s on sale for 199.99. NOT 20% off. At least by my math.

    Is it a shady ad? Yup…I’m not loving that it’s kind of ambiguous. But, is it illegal, or false advertising, no.

  28. failurate says:

    I think it is an accidental spacing issue. Why would Sears want to purposely confuse and irritate their customers? Who do they think they are? BOA?

  29. sgodun says:

    F*ck Sears.

  30. affidavid says:

    deceptive, and very clever, but not false advertising. i’m no shill for any company that does this, because it borders on bait-and-switch, but it would stand up in court.

  31. chrisjames says:

    Wow, I actually read it as “All Garage Storage On Sale” and figured they were charging full price. I didn’t realize there could be a mistake about the 50% until Jay’s misquote of “ALL Garage storage on sale, 50% off – excludes closeouts.” Jay, that’s not what it says.

    Though, it is still ambiguous, and that deserves a complaint.

  32. iaintgoingthere says:

    It is somewhat misleading.
    Hey, look at the model number with half off price. I have to say that the manager is smarter than Nazar.

  33. dwneylonsr says:

    “It says 50% off everything but closeouts.

    This is the one that’s pictured.”

  34. MyPetFly says:

    @ElijahDProphet:

    “Ad,” not “add.”

    Anyway, I would have told the manager I’d take four of them, had them hauled to the checkout stand, and then I would have walked out.

  35. dasunst3r says:

    I think the store manager should be made to write the definition of the word “all” from a dictionary a few times as punishment for this.

  36. bonzombiekitty says:

    @dwneylonsr: No it doesn’t.

    It says “All garage units on sale except closeouts. 50% off the thing to the left. The thing to the left is a UltiMate Wall cabinet”

  37. bonzombiekitty says:

    @dasunst3r: But like it or not the manager is correct. However misleading it may be, the ad does not say that all garage storage units are 50% off. It says that all garage storage units are on SALE (which they are).

  38. chrylis says:

    @dragonvpm: Having seen plenty of business documents that haven’t been reviewed by competent proofreaders (and judging from the moderately clumsy layout of the flyer), I have to say that my money’s squarely on “careless poor job” rather than a misleading ad. Still, though, I think the manager could have at least offered an additional 10-15% off.

    (Technology consultant who writes good reports because my high-school English teachers chained me to my desk and beat me until it was perfect. Or close enough.)

  39. TVGenius says:

    I think the manager should probably honored it… based on poor design of the ad. But I don’t think they have a case to complain to authorities, since I think it’s pretty clear what it means, it’s just misleading if you don’t actually read the whole thing.

  40. united316 says:

    i read it as all the garage units were on sale and that they were showing that the one picuted was 50% off no where on the ad does it state that all garage units were 50% off.

    can we please, please for the love of the USA learn to READ…

  41. jerros says:

    Not sure it’ll do you much good but….

    I’ve been keeping my eye on sale prices for the gladiator garage works line of storage products which sears happens to carry. I saw the same advertisement for “50% off” garage storage products for their 3 day sale and decided to check out the prices on the items I wanted.

    All the products I looked at were on sale, but they weren’t exactly 50% off. One product I recall the exact price of normally retails for $24.99 and was on sale for $19.99. Now my math skills aren’t terribly great but you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that 50% of $24.99 is roughly $12.50.

    While there were deals to be had, it wasn’t 50% off as promised in the sales flyer.

    All the prices I viewed were the prices available online and did not include shipping costs. I’d imagine if I went to the store I would’ve run into the same issues as the origional poster.

  42. EBounding says:

    It’s a poor advertisement, but I don’t really see how it’s deceptive. It’s saying that all garage storage is on sale, not that all garage storage is 50% off.

  43. captadam says:

    Oh, you want this grill for 20% off? Sorry, but that deal only applies to the pictured grill, and only if you have a pot of baked beans on the side burner. See, it’s right here in the ad, sir.

  44. graymulligan says:

    to all of you that are saying “well, it was confusing, the manager should have honored it, or given an extra discount”…

    Maybe the manager should have instead walked the customer over to the section that carries the hooked on phonics software, and offered to comp him a set.

    Why is it no one can accept that they’ve read something wrong, and accept that they, and not the written word, are the problem?

    Personal responsability? naaah…we don’t know what that means here in the USA…gimme something free cuz it was confoozing.

  45. graymulligan says:

    @captadam:

    actually, the grill pictured is marked down 80 dollars, not 20%. All the other grills are 20% off, as the ad specifically states.

    Why is this so hard?

  46. EBounding says:

    The only thing Sears can be accused of here is taking advantage of people who won’t spend 10 seconds to read the ad. :/

  47. SpecialEd says:

    “…accused Sears of deliberately making the ad ambiguous…”

    The ad isn’t ambiguous at all. It clearly says All and 50%. Any reasonable person would see it that way.

    If Sears were on a mission to piss people off and run the company into the ground they couldn’t do better than this.

  48. captadam says:

    Here’s what I see: ALL GARAGE STORAGE ON SALE (tiny disclaimer) 50% OFF.

    The tiny disclaimer does NOT act as a separation. Visually, it’s there to modify the word sale, but it does not separate the first line from the second line. The phrase 50% OFF, the way it is positioned in the ad, modifies the word SALE.

    The interpretation preferred by the manager, and by many commentators here, would group the very LARGE CAPITAL LETTER TYPE with the small type below to make the sentence “50% OFF Shown: UltiMate Wall Cabinet.” That obviously makes no sense. To read it that way would be to disregard the pattern set up elsewhere in the ad. That pattern is LARGE CAPITAL LETTER HEADLINE > Small type name of pictured sample > Product number > Stated discount applied to price of shown sample.

  49. MeOhMy says:

    @graymulligan:

    Why is it no one can accept that they’ve read something wrong, and accept that they, and not the written word, are the problem?

    Uhh…because the “written word” in this case is poorly written/laid out and easily misunderstood, maybe?

    I can think of a lot of ways to make the ad umabiguous. They weren’t done. The ad is ambiguous. You can’t fault the reader if the writer wasn’t careful enough!

    It’s pretty much a textbook example of the reason why pandas are opening fire in restaurants and not paying their bills.

  50. BlackFlag55 says:

    SEARS = fail.

  51. stuny says:

    I checked with UltiMate. They do not manufacture any products called “ALL Garage Storage”. These are made by the world famous “ALL Corporation” who also make grills, fitness equipment, etc.

    They are best known for their viral marketing campaign: “ALL your Garage Storage are belong to us.”

  52. EBounding says:

    Here’s what the ad says without any text formatting:

    All Garage Storage On Sale Excludes Discounts. 50% Off Shown: UltiMate wall cabinet #95118 Reg. 99.99 sale 49.99

    It doesn’t say: ALL GARAGE STORAGE ON SALE! 50% OFF!

    Which is how the OP seems to have read it.

  53. captadam says:

    @EBounding:

    The ad is poorly punctuated and capitalized, not to mention poorly formatted with line breaks and font sizes. A clear meaning CANNOT be discerned from it.

  54. Pithlit says:

    The ad clearly and obviously says that ALL garage storage is 50% off. The manager was in the wrong. I don’t see how anyone can read that only the pictured model is 50% off, so I don’t get the defense of the ad. The “shown” sentence is on a different line from the 50% off.

  55. czetie says:

    @EBounding: Formatting matters. It is disingenuous at best to pretend that the meaning excludes the formatting — especially when the font sizes vary so dramatically to create clear visual groupings.

  56. EBounding says:

    @captadam: I agree that it’s poorly formatted. But if you after spending a few seconds to read through the words, the meaning is clear. At least it is to me. I personally wouldn’t have run out to the store for the sale.

  57. mammalpants says:

    everyone knows that “ALL” stands for “A Limited seLection” duh.

  58. I don’t know if the semantics mean the ad is technically correct but in regard to it being misleading: it clearly is. Even the manager admitted this. She said it would be reasonable to assume it is 50% off all garage storage and if a reasonable person makes a reasonable assumption about what the sale involves and that is different to what is actually on sale then it is by definition misleading.

  59. HOP says:

    they should have gotten the 50%……i avoid sears like the plague….they have gone downhill like s streamline brick….
    when i was a kid, sears was the place to shop….now, forget it….

  60. mariospants says:

    The ad is horribly misleading but I can’t get what their intention is. What goes through their devious little minds??? because what’s gonna happen is that some people will arrive and get incredibly pissed off. They could literally lose a lot of customers to this practice. The Consumerist exposure alone is going to kill a few sales right there. It just doesn’t seem worth the effort. I don’t get what the advantage is. Do they expect that people will happily buy the product featured in the photo or accept only 20% off of their preferred product because they’re either sheep or they don’t do math well?

  61. MrGrimes says:

    Worded terribly.

  62. geoffhazel says:

    The ad is or could be ambiguous, but to look at it, even reading carefully, because the font of 50% matches All garage storage, they go together.

    Any reasonable person would assume that ALL storage is 50% off.

    Show me an example? Fine. I get it. That’s the only one that’s 50%? Uhh… well…. I guess you could read it that way if you’ve got your mind made up, but that’s not what the plain sense of the ad communicates.

    If they meant “only this one” it should have said “only”.

  63. Geekybiker says:

    A reasonable person reading that ad would assume that
    1) All storage is indeed 50% off except for closeouts
    2) The picture item is an example of the storage on sale, not the only one at 50%.

    This is where punctuation could be their friend. A period after sale would have made it much clearer.

  64. bagumpity says:

    Call me a cynic, but I’m willing to bet some marketing puke at Sears HQ has a spreadsheet open with the following predicted metrics contributing to a publish/no-publish decision on the advert:

    1. Estimated dollar loss at register from 20% base discount
    2. Estimated dollar loss at register from customers who will complain and get additional discount
    3. Estimated dollar loss from negative publicity based on probability of exposure & degree of outrage.
    4. Estimated dollar gain by increased sales

    If 4 > 1+2+3, the advert gets run. If 4 > 1 but 4 < 1+2+3, the advert gets corrected and run. If 4 < 1, do not include garage storage on advert.

  65. Serpephone says:

    This is clearly one of the most deceptive ads I have seen in a while. Sears Corporate should explain themselves to us Consumerists. I am so tired of being misled.

    FALSE ADVERTISING!

  66. brian25 says:

    I understand what some of you are saying about it not really saying 50 % off and it was intended for the UltiMate only…. However, Perception is Reality. I can rationalize that given that I would have known that everything else was 20% off and the 50% off was just an example then OK. But nowhere does it state that the only thing that is 50% is the UltiMate. It could have been cleared up by simply stating “UltiMate ONLY” or “50% on Shown Item ONLY All others 20%”. But by giving the example it suggests that all things are 50% so the 20% argument goes out the window.

  67. BreadBoy says:

    I don’t have a garage.

  68. ablestmage says:

    The ad is not at all deceptive. The ad clearly states that all non-closement, garage sale storage items are ON SALE. It does not say what percentage. It does, however, note that the one pictured is 50% off. End of story.

  69. ablestmage says:

    Further, “On Sale” and “50% off” is redundant — indicating that there must be a reason why it’s redundant. The reason is that the two phrases are seperate sentences.

    If all g-s were 50% off, it would simply be “All Garage Sale Storage 50% Off” instead. This is just the case of refusal to be wrong on the customer’s part. The customer can and is often quite wrong.

  70. Meathamper says:

    This is ridiculous. I think that Sears is going to hell in a handbasket if they don’t stop misleading customers who want to pay money to buy stuff from Sears.

  71. Difdi says:

    @kidjesus: since when do you need ID to buy a TV in the United States?

  72. bombaxstar says:

    @MyPetFly: “Anyway, I would have told the manager I’d take four of them, had them hauled to the checkout stand, and then I would have walked out.”

    You do realize that it would be the selling associates or recieving associates putting that up, and not the manager, right? No need to be a stupid douchebag to the people who can’t help what the ad says.

    I hate how misleading our ads are. I work in Sears Hardware and it seems as though every week we have a sign on the cashwap stating that in this week’s sale ad it says bleckableckablecka but that actually means blahblahblah, sorry for the inconvience. It’s rediculous.