Punishing Customers For Buying More: Now Worldwide

Theoretically, if you buy more of something, you should pay less per item, or per unit. That’s the entire point of buying things in bulk. Right? Not necessarily. To confuse the logical part of your brain this fine morning, here’s a collection of instances where customers pay more when they buy more.

Walmart, for whatever reason (I can think of a few), is a repeat offender, but these pictures also come from Office Depot, Home Depot, and a Tesco discount store in the UK.

(Thanks to Nick, Rick, Hayden, Charlie, and Andrea!)

(Top photo: kailadee)

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  1. KixStar says:

    I’m pretty sure these businesses are banking on the fact that most consumers are dumb and either can’t or don’t want to figure out the math.

    • henwy says:

      @KixStar:

      And if the consumers are dumb, they deserve it. There’s no deception afoot when the prices are clearly labeled.

      • MostlyHarmless says:

        @henwy: It’s a grey area.

        I am generally of the opinion that just because you can rip someone off without them realizing does not mean you should.

        • LegoMan322 says:

          @Lucifer_Cat: Yes but if they are stupid enough to buy it without thought, you should sell it.

          People are completely uneducated when it comes to money and how to spend it. They might be good at saving it, but not too many people understand how to shop.

          • nakedscience says:

            @LegoMan322: What if someone is illiterate, or just can’t read well? Is on vacation from another country? Has a learning disability? Is elderly and perhaps not as clear in the head as they used to be?

            This attitude of “if you can take advantage of people, you should” is fucking bullshit.

            • cjones27 says:

              @nakedscience: So should we consider every possible option when setting prices?

              If someone can’t do math well but still wants to save money, bring a calculator. Hell, every single phone now has a calculator on it.

              Agreed: they shouldn’t take advantage of people just because they can. But considering most, if not all, stores have a per-unit price listed, there’s no excuse to just buy the bag with more in it.

              • nakedscience says:

                @cjones27: “So should we consider every possible option when setting prices?”

                …Uh. There is only one solution: Companies set the prices correctly, instead of trying to dick people out of their money. What other “possible options” are there?

                I bet you wouldn’t feel that way if you had a daughter or son who was mentally disabled in some way yet still otherwise highly functional.

                Notice I said “illiterate or on vacation from another country.” Yep. Everyone can use a calculator, it’s that simple!

                How ’bout we stop taking advantage of people just ‘cuz we can?

      • KixStar says:

        @henwy: I completely agree. I passed 3rd grade math, so I say screw the uneducated. :)

        • nakedscience says:

          @KixStar: And you’re an asshole.

        • HeyBickley says:

          @KixStar: I was never great at math, but I’ve even passed college courses and I can’t look at two signs and automatically do the division in my head for the per-units. I do use my cell phone calculator in a pinch, but sometimes I don’t feel like making a spreadsheet to buy some soda. :(

          • Garbanzo says:

            @HeyBickley: I’m good enough at math to have passed a graduate course in quantum field theory, and I *still* can’t do arithmetic in my head. It’s a question of short-term memory capacity, not mathematical knowledge. I can multiply by 2 okay, so I can detect those cases when two costs more than twice one…but when it comes to figuring out whether the 64 or 48 ounce size is a better deal, my husband fires up his calculator watch.

    • FoxCMK says:

      @KixStar: Wow, the sheer number of people in here who think they’re doing this on purpose with intent to deceive is pretty discouraging. Some of you folks have got to attempt to restore a little faith in humanity and belief in simple human (or computer) error.

      • Cyberxion101 says:

        @cmkennedy: Given the frequency at which it happens at Wal-Mart, I really doubt it can be attributed to human error. It’d have to be a real dumb human behind these prices. Or a really f’ed up computer. Or a really dumb human using a really f’ed up computer.

  2. wrjohnston91283 says:

    Regarding the paint rebate – the price of the paint per gallon is probable less for the 5 gallon bucket, so in the end its still cheaper, even though the rebate is only $4 a gallon for the pail.

  3. ospreyguy says:

    Either they are hoping for a customer mistake or the larger packaging is a more recent wholesale order and may be priced differently. Wal-Mart will do this for the most part to keep costs as low as possible (part of their supply chain gimmick). Unlike gas prices that can magically go up 6 times in one day without a change in the price they paid for that truck full, some retailers will keep the items they have had longer on the shelf at the cheaper price. They paid less for them so it is worth it and smaller units tend to sell slower in recent trending.

    Others are just dicks.

  4. corkdork says:

    With the last one, perhaps the base cost of the 5-gallon paint can is lower than that of 5 1-gallon paint cans, so saving $20 still makes it cost less than $25 off 5 1-gallon pails.

    The other ones are just bad math.

    I’ll also note that this is common in the liquor industry — a 1.75 L bottle of booze can, in fact, cost LESS than a 1 L bottle (due to demand; 1 L bottles are what bars and restaurants use).

    • etla says:

      @corkdork:
      Yes the Behr thing is totally reasonable. Generally a 5 gallon pail is already discounted to near the price of 4 1 gallon buckets.

    • geoffhazel says:

      @corkdork: Not only that but dealing with a 5 gallon can, if you need 5, is way easier than messing with 5 one gal cans, boxing them together to get the batch the same, etc. so even if you were saving 5 bucks it would hardly be worth the trouble.

  5. Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

    Yet another instance of being an informed consumer. Basic math usually saves you every time, it’s just a matter of looking at the prices. I see this all the time, it’s ridiculous.

    Also, on a side note: depending on where you shop, you should always compare the “generic version” of whatever you are buying to the original. I’ve actually found when things are on sale at my local grocery store, it’s cheaper to buy name brands. Search out the deals on the most expensive or most used items in your household and as long as you aren’t sacrificing quality, it’s usually a win-win. I know a lot of people believe generic is automatically cheaper, it’s not.

  6. GenerousHelpingOf_GitEmSteveDave says:

    I buy gallons of water from Stop and Shop.

    Now before you people start calling me a snob, let me explain I live on a farm w/ well water. Below is a picture of my water after passing through a whole house filter AND a under sink filter and a glass of Stop&Shop’s Acadia water. What you can’t see is the smell of Sulfur coming from the one that has passed through the filters. I’ll let you decide which glass is which:

    That being said, a gallon jug by itself is $.89. A three gallon(3 individual gallon jugs) box used to be $2.49, but the price was recently raised to $2.99. Now to further prove how stupid this is, the water ships to and arrives at the store IN the boxes. In order to get single gallons on the shelf, they have to break open a three gallon box, and put the individual bottles on the shelf. They then have to break down the boxes, crush them, bale them, then have them picked up. The cost of the labor, recycling, and pick up ADDS cost to the single gallon. Yet they charge more for the three gallon pack, which requires ME to absorb the costs of recycling. I tried asking S&S corporate about this, and the guy there lied to me and said they don’t ship in the three packs. Besides having stocked shelves before, I have shown his email to three managers at three stores, and they all told me that they do in fact ship in the same boxes on the shelf.

    • balthisar says:

      @GenerousHelpingOf_GitEmSteveDave: I grew up with one of those wells. Around here, that’s the result of shallow wells. We were too poor to drill a deeper well.

      • GenerousHelpingOf_GitEmSteveDave says:

        @balthisar: My area is due to a reservoir. It’s within ~1-2 miles of my house, and according to the locals, when they built/filled it, it screwed the water table up all around the area, and caused the HUGE rise in iron, carbon, and sulfur. My well used to supply three houses AND a dairy farm, so we know it’s deep enough.

    • mzs says:

      @HasPonies!Envy_GitEmSteveDave: My uncle solved this problem, but it was incredibly expensive. He had a well, the water was hard and had rust (iron) so he dealt with that with a water softener with a module to deal with the rust as well? (Was that a filter with carbon inserts, I can’t remember.)

      Then a bunch of developments go up around him and they built a water tower and pump nearby. That messed-up the water table and he had to have a deeper well made. But now that water was even harder and also had sulfur. An upgraded water softener and filters for the sulfur were not effective for removing the sulfur.

      He installed a system that injects hydrogen peroxide into the water to pretreat it. There is some catalyst that then frees an O which then binds to the S (the sulfur is not free it is bound to sodium in the water if what I remember correctly). Then that O binds to the sulfur compound and turns it into whitish yellow gunk that gets filtered by a filter. He has to add hydrogen peroxide every two years which costs something like $200. He paid almost $1K for the system which he installed himself. His water is great now, he still needs to use the water softener as well.

  7. OneTrickPony says:

    A 5-gallon bucket costs less than 5 1-gallon cans to start off with. For Behr, it’s probably about $25 for a gallon can, or $100 for a 5-gallon bucket. Either way, the discount is about 20%. So you’re not getting punished twice for buying in volume–you’re just not getting rewarded twice.

  8. Preyfar says:

    Huh. Look at the White Out, too. I swear, that single pack looks like the actual White Out roll is even BIGGER than the multi-pack (which seems to have a larger center ring and smaller roll).

    • GenerousHelpingOf_GitEmSteveDave says:

      @Preyfar: But both have 33.3 on the labels. I think the single is an optical illusion, as more is stored on a larger circumference roll vs. a smaller one. I think.

    • TheBursar says:

      @Preyfar: It seemed like that to me initially, but they both say 33.3 ft.

    • jchabotte says:

      @Preyfar:

      Don’t you want to pay extra for “fun colors”?!

      • DaBull says:

        @jchabotte: The white-out is the only product that can justifiably be sold for a little more, if you can justify paying more for “fun colors”. Other than that, everything’s a scam.

  9. morkus says:

    The last one doesn’t make sense.

    Typically a 5-gallon container of primer, for example, will cost $70. The 1-gallon container costs $20. Doing the math, if you were to buy 5×1-gallon containers, you’d pay $75 with the discount. If you were to buy the 5-gallon container, you’d pay $50.

    How is this a bad deal?

  10. krispykrink says:

    Laura, I’m amazed you didn’t list the Consumerist favorite repeat offender in this, Target.

  11. Ragman says:

    Walmart’s been doing it with cereal for a while. I’ve gotten to where I don’t trust the pricing just b/c it’s in bulk. I still occasionally sit down and crank through Sam’s club purchases to make sure I’m saving >$40 a year.

    At least Wallyworld makes it easier by listing the per unit pricing. Except when the unit is the whole freaking package, or one package is in oz while the other is in lbs.

    • wehsmith says:

      @Ragman:
      Don’t forget to check those per-unit tags occasionally also. I’ve noticed at Walmart where the tags per-unit pricing was incorrect. It was on Ice-Cream, I noticed because there is a lot of different sku’s with same weight, but when i was comparing noticed different prices per ounce for items priced and weighted the same…

      • MauriceCallidice says:

        @wehsmith: The local Giant supermarket sells both unflavored and mint versions of J&J “EaslySlide” floss in packages containing the same amount of floss. The retail price is the same, but the unit price is wildly different. The one price is per foot, the other is per yard.

    • Trai_Dep says:

      @Ragman: Isn’t switching to Sam’s Club to avoid being ripped off by Wal-Mart like switching to Pepsi because Coke is making you fat?

  12. gameraboy says:

    Thank god for states with unit pricing laws. In New Jersey the per unit price is the same size as the item price, so I’m trained to look at the yellow price and see the real value. Scary when you look at cosmetics though, $455/oz!

  13. TomCoughlin says:

    Was at CVS this weekend buying razor blades – Mach 3 blades worked out to over $3 each if you bought a 12-pack, but with a 5- or 8-pack they were just over $2.50 each (still a ripoff though).

  14. Murph1908 says:

    I think this might just be more of a result of pricing everything by computer.

    When you look at a screen, and set the price for an item based on whatever factors, you might not see the other item quantity and the price.

    Then, when the employee stocks it, he/she either doesn’t do the math, or doesn’t care.

    My other theory is that the profit margins are based on some sort of formula, which causes a mathematic anomaly in some cases.

    • Murph1908 says:

      @Murph1908:
      Forgot to add to that second theory.

      Then, the managers know it’s goofy, but it’s too much of a hassle to constantly change the price manually.

    • dave23 says:

      @Murph1908: This is 100% correct. I have worked at the corporate offices of more than one retailer and we run into this issue due to automated pricing algorithms.

  15. VA_White says:

    This buy more, save less phenomenon has been ongoing in military commissaries with respect to boneless, skinless chicken for as long as I can remember.

    If you buy the single package with ~4 breasts, you always – and I mean always – pay less per pound than if you buy the bulk family pack of chicken breasts with ~12 breasts in it. I have no idea why, but this has been true in every commissary I’ve ever shopped in. Maddening.

  16. khiltd says:

    Behr is also some of the worst paint on the market.

    • Landru says:

      @khiltd: I hate Home Depot but Consumer Reports usually gives Behr pretty good ratings.

      • _catlike_ says:

        @Landru: We’ve used Behr flat enamel for years now in two houses and been very pleased with it for scrubbability and whatnot. Just make sure you use decent brushes/rollers–they can affect the coverage and texture.

  17. markhowson says:

    The Tesco one isn’t quite as clean cut as it looks – that promotion is actually currently on all single bottle drinks, and you can mix and match so you could get that water with something more expensive. I checked at Tesco Express and if you scan through two waters it doesn’t apply the promotion, so you still only pay £1.58.

  18. anonairman says:

    Go to into the Gas station and see what the price difference is for a 1-Liter (that neetly fits in your car cup holder) and a 2-liter bottle.

    Which do you think is more expensive? Supply and demand.

    Note: I like having the lid of a 22 oz or 1 liter becuase I spend allot of time on a computer… so I just refill the small bottle with the large ones while at home. :)

  19. glitterpig says:

    I just noticed this at Giant, too – 1 qt bottles of Gatorade are $1, 2-qt bottles are $2.50. The small bottles have a special tag, but they’re those “Everyday Low Price” ones that make you think something’s on sale when it’s really not.

    Giant even puts the per-unit pricing on their tags, so I’m not sure why anyone would buy the 2-qt size.

  20. savdavid says:

    Yes, if the companies can make an extra nickel out of confusing the very young to the very old with this type of shell game, you bet they will do it. It is not deceptive, exactly, just sleazy. They know exactly what they are doing, making it harder for consumers to buy more wisely.

  21. Jesse S Congdon says:

    I think its a psychological thing we are under the belief that if we buy more we save more if there are multiples of stuff in the package I tend to calculate in my head the price per single unit or the price per oz. I wanted to get some pancake mix and the name brand was only a nickel more than the generic so I got the name brand.

  22. curtisawa says:

    Like the lotto, it is a tax on people who are bad at math.

  23. Anonymous says:

    At Krogers I’ve notices many, many products cost more per unit if bought in large sizes – the largest containers of peanut butter, cheese, etc all cost more per oz than the small ones. Sure, they’re counting on some people buying without looking at the unit price. (e.g. strapped for time w/a large family to feed?)

    What’s lame is that those of us who do manage to outsmart this dull little trick are also finding ourselves obliged to buy – and waste – more packaging than necessary. Oughta be a law!

  24. almightytora says:

    It’s always fun to buy the separate items at a fast food restaurant and then get a confused look from the cashier when they ring it in and turn around and see the combo price is more expensive than the individual items put together.

  25. hamburglar says:

    Last night at Costco in Chicago, I saw Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce in a package with two 32oz bottles right next to gallon jugs of the exact same product. I don’t remember the cost of each, but the package with two 32oz bottles cost about 10 cents less per ounce than the gallon jug.

  26. Anonymous says:

    I think everyone is forgetting the most obvious explanation.

    They are trying to even their inventories out. If you offer a 10 oz item for 2 bucks and a 20 oz item for 3 bucks most people are going to buy the 20oz one.. so the store is going to be stuck with excess inventory of the 10oz SKU. So by changing the price you can turn the 10oz SKU into a better deal and, hopefully, stimulate some purchases and reduce the excess inventory. Excess inventory of items that never sell are death for stores. You can essentially have hundreds of dollars, or thousands of dollars or more (depending on what you are selling) locked up in cardboard boxes (the cases of your product sitting around not selling).
    You’ve got to get that stuff to move somehow.

    Another, related, explanation is that a manager/buyer over-ordered the 10oz item and the store needs to find a way to trim some of that inventory.

    Also, depending on the product, it is possible the distributor/vendor or manufacturer had excess of this hypothetical 10oz item.. so they offered their customers (retail stores).. a sale on the 10oz SKU so now the stores are making a bigger margin on the 10oz so they are trying to get the customer to get the 10oz

  27. DeeJayQueue says:

    At Lowe’s the insecticides and herbicides are all like this. It’s like $13.00 for a 2 quart thing of Spectracide but $32 for the same thing in a gallon jug. Same concentration, same active ingredients, same mix ratio. More than double the price for double the product.

  28. John Henschen says:

    Yes, both white-out packages say 33.3 but that’s the TOTAL per package. The single roll has as much on it as all 4 of the others. This is a horribly ridiculous marketing and packaging scam.

  29. geoffhazel says:

    My pet peeve on this topic is inconsistent units in the unit pricing. I will see for the IDENTICAL items “1.02 per pound” next to “1.21 per pint” (various types and sizes of Arm and hammer laundry liquid detergent). And look at the cheese table some time: prices per ounce, per gram, per pound, etc. side by side. It makes comparison shopping much more difficult.

  30. BadHairLife says:

    I carry a calculator in my purse for just this reason.

    As a bulk consumer of kitty litter, I have encountered this so often, I now check the prices every week. Example? Just this past Sunday, it was cheaper to buy two small plastic pails of clumping litter than it was to buy a cardboard box with 3X the amount. Given the cost of the packaging alone this is, well, counter-intuitive to say the least.