Target's Red Bull Pricing Scheme Rewards People Who Pay Attention

I typically prefer to make jokes at Wal-Mart’s expense. Target, however, is forcing me to make a joke with Target as the punchline. Every time I go into the store, I have to stand and gawk at the point of purchase Red Bull display. A 4-pack is $5.89 and the 12-pack is $19.99. Seems to me that you could just get three 4-packs for $17.67 and save yourself a cool two dollars. Also, this is Target’s standard pricing for these items as I check every time I go in Target to see if they have wised up. Also, it saddens me to say that I have seen customers purchase the 12-packs. So maybe Target has it figured out after all?


Hey, Target just wants to keep you on your toes. Those who pay attention will be rewarded. Or something.


Edit Your Comment

  1. Maybe they assume that people speeding on Red Bull don’t care to take the time to read, man.

    They have places to go, people to see, no time for math.


  2. IrisMR says:

    I see mistakes like that all the time at the grocery… usually the difference is only a couple cents though.

  3. DeeJayQueue says:

    if you were going to buy 12 anyway, then yes, buying 3 4-packs would save you money. But if you’d just let them sit on the shelf in your house and didn’t need to have them, then you’re really spending money to save money, which isn’t saving money at all.

  4. llcooljabe says:

    Same thing happens for diapers. but this seems to be isolated to one particular target I go to. I have checked others, and they don’t make the same error.

  5. shan6 says:

    Two bucks, sadly, is not worth the convenience of having a single package.

  6. 8abhive says:

    OP, it’s a trick question. The smart option is the 0-pack.

  7. Murph1908 says:

    I think it was Target that I saw something (vaguely) similar. The body wash I use had a smaller and larger size. The larger size ended up being more expensive and less volume than 2 of the smaller sizes. So not only could I purchase a variety of scents, I could save money doing it as well.

  8. rwakelan says:

    Wal-Mart was the same way last time I saw the Red Bull display. The four-pack was actually about $0.20 cheaper than the Target price with the 12 pack being the same price. So feel free to make Wal-Mart the punchline as well.

  9. Shawna says:

    I’ve noticed it other places besides Target, like Wegmans and Tops (supermarkets), but at least at our supermarkets there’s the “Cost per 100 ct” or “Cost per oz” area on the tag so you can just look at that to find the best deal, instead of doing real math.

  10. marsneedsrabbits says:

    There is a similar price discrepancy at the local Target involving multi-packs of yogurt.
    It boils down to this: I do unit pricing in my head or occasionally on the handy-dandy calculator I carry, but most people probably rely on those little tags with the unit pricing broken down, which Target doesn’t have.
    In the absence of unit price information on the tags, they probably rely on the “biggest is the best deal” fallacy and buy accordingly.

  11. hc5duke says:

    @DeeJayQueue: I think you’re missing the point. Buying ANY number of 4 packs saves you money in per-volume terms

    @IrisMR: seriously, why is this even a story? Maybe I’ll send in pics next time I see a litercola marked at a higher rate than cans.

  12. Sucko-T says:

    If those are 8.3 0z cans that’s $20.00 for
    0.778125 of a gallon. And people complain about gas prices?

  13. Bladefist says:

    or they were drunk and needed to finish off that bottle of jaeger

  14. RickinStHelen says:

    I used to drink Diet Coke. A LOT of Diet Coke. At the Super One in Michigan, the 24 pack always cost more than two 12 packs. I asked the store manager why, when I thought I was being overcharged. He explained it was how Coke priced them. You were paying the higher cost for packaging and convenience. Needless to say, I bought the two 12 packs instead of the higher 24 pack. Just more prrof that you have to pay attention and not assume that bigger is cheaper.

  15. saltmine says:

    @Bladefist: Yes, yes, and vodka costs $20-$120 a gallon depending on what you’re buying.

  16. sburnap42 says:

    Retailers do this all the time. I’ve seen this at nearly every grocery store I’ve shopped at. They know that the conventional wisdom is that larger pack == lower per unit price, so they deliberately break this rule every once in a while to catch the shoppers who aren’t paying attention. It doesn’t matter if the per unit price is labeled. I’ve often seen stores do this where the tags clearly showed that the smaller package was the better deal. They know that by the time you’ve stopped to read the tag, they’ve lost the “trick them into the higher price” battle anyway.

  17. SabrinaFaire says:

    That’s what you call an idiot tax

  18. shaken_bake says:

    Hey, this concept of charging more for larger volume is rampant, in many stores. I’ve had long discussions with the manager of my Kroger store over being charged, for instance, $3.89 for a three-pack of tissues, when the individual boxes cost only $0.89, or getting a pound of spaghetti for $0.69, when the pound and a half costs $2.29! I love how the unit pricing tags manage to find a different unit of measure to throw off even savvy consumers. The bottom line is – don’t assume the larger packaging costs less.


  19. crappedcrusader says:

    I have first hand bought Target-branded eye drops that hd single packaged bottles for $1.97, or a special deal two-pack for close to $5.

    I got the two individual packages.

  20. UpsetPanda says:

    I suppose part of it is the convenience of only carrying one big pack versus three individual packs…after all, if you happen to drop one of them, your foot might be on the receiving end.

    Whenever I go to the store I usually compare prices of individual items. I just did a quick google and I know it’s not the same, but a 12-pack of Coca-Cola in cans is usually more expensive than a 2 liter of the same product in a bottle, right? Well, it costs more to buy 24 cans of Coke than it takes to buy 4 litres (2 bottles) of Coke and you’re getting only .25 litre more for your cans. Why do people do it? Oftentimes, even if you’re never going to use the cans for any kind of portability (tailgaiting, parties, etc.), it’s the convenience of being able to take a can around and not have to pour a glass, then rinse the glass.

  21. saltmine says:

    @JD: It’s not just convenience and portability. One reason people do it is because 2 liters of coke go flat after a couple days. Cans don’t have that problem because you tend to open them and finish them in one sitting.

  22. benchman says:

    I was at Ralphs grocery store and they had similar “deal” With Rockstar energy drink. They had 3 cans for $4.98, or a 4 pack for $6.99. I guess you gotta pay extra for the cardboard packaging

  23. monkey33 says:

    I can’t tell by the picture, but is the twelve pack the 8 oz or 16 oz cans? I saw similar pricing at my local supermarket and thought it was odd until I saw that the 12 pack was a larger sized can.

    And four packs of Campbell’s tomato soup are more expensive per ounce at my local store than a single can.

  24. protest says:


    ha! litercola! anyone else immediately think of supertroopers or am i the only dork here?

  25. Kishi says:

    I’ve seen the same thing at Target with razor blades.

  26. UpsetPanda says:

    @monkey33: I think the 12 pack is the 8 oz…the 16 oz cans are taller and wider, right? If not, then I suppose those could’ve been the 16 oz cans.

  27. Adam Hyland says:

    These aren’t mistakes or descrepancies. It is price selection. Target is betting that people who buy redbull 4 at a time aren’t likely to be the same people who buy it 12 at a time. Those people who buy it 12 at a time are likely to not care too much about the price (because they are using it as a mixer, so the name is what matters), but the people who buy it 4 at a time treat it like a commodity–if there is a similarly priced energy drink out there instead, they will buy that.

    The other element is the idiot tax part of the price selection equation. This is the same thing as pricing pasta sauce at eye level higher than at shin level. If you care about price, you’ll compare. If you don’t, you’ll grab. If you grab, you pay for it.

    this is grocery economics 101, people. :)

  28. diannerose says:

    I see this a lot with other products at Walmart. If you buy the off brand cereals they come with more but cost more per ounce that the big brands, same with the powdered gatorade and other bulk products. I figure that they know that people will assume that the more you buy the cheaper it is so they take advantage of this.

  29. evslin says:

    @protest: Ha, nope, that’s the first thing I thought of too.

  30. backbroken says:

    Burger King (ok, I shouldn’t be eating at Burger King but stay with me) sells the 4 piece chicken nugget on their $1 menu.

    The 6 piece chicken nugget sells for more than $2.

    At least this was the case at the Burger King in Elkridge Maryland.

  31. Curiosity says:

    Thus proving my high school math teacher right once again.

  32. Project Thanatos says:

    The Stupid Tax in effect! I support this.

  33. Raiden47 says:

    Why did this story make the front page? This is a standard method of pricing things, as most people do not take the time to look at what will cost them more, or less. Most people will just grab whatever has more of the thing they wish to purchase/have, and do not bother to take a look at the different pricing.

    So, why did this make the frontpage? Because you did something that is not necessarily smart, but by today’s standards, it just may be? Kinda sad isn’t it.. that something this simple is often considered “smart”.. so much for North American persons being “smart”.

  34. MrJames says:

    I noticed this with cans of cat food last week. Three twelve-packs of Friskies were cheaper than a case of 32 cans.

  35. PatrickIs2Smart says:

    Is it possible the sugar free costs more?

  36. finite_elephant says:

    It’s usually the same thing with liquid laundry detergent. The biggest and smallest sizes cost more per unit and one of the middle sizes is usually the best buy, but because of the sizes it comes in (100 oz, 150 oz, 200 oz., 300 oz) the math is a little harder to do in your head.

  37. cloudedice says:

    I saw the same thing with Swanson Chicken Broth in a local Walmart. The 32oz cartons were just about twice the cost per unit as the 14oz cans. I was very confused, and opted for more of the smaller cans.

  38. Womblebug says:

    Most cell phones have a calculator function. I use mine all the time to calculate per unit costs for comparison purposes. Even in stores that put the per unit cost on the shelf tags, when the item’s on sale the per unit cost isn’t always included on the sale price.

  39. Daniels says:

    McDonalds is guilty of this, too. The 4-piece Chicken McNugget usually gives you more McNugget deliciousness for less money.

  40. BoorRichard says:

    This kind of “family size” or “economy size” scamming happens all the time.

    Open your eyes people. It’s all over any supermarket.

  41. Gopher bond says:

    Sigh…who would ask why this story is here? It’s called “Consumerist” and you can’t think of a reason why it might be important to point out “standard” pricing procedures with the purpose of getting more money from the consumer? A good consumer should compare prices and decide whether the convenience of a higher count package is worth the extra $$$.

    We aren’t all as smart as all you people who’ve known this since birth.

  42. Mrs. Stephen Fry says:

    No, the sugar free Red Bull costs the same as the regular.

    Target is exactly the same as Wal-Mart but on a smaller scale. No one ever bitches about their crap employment practices and pay.

  43. STrRedWolf says:

    You have to remember, Red Bull is advertized to “revitalize mind and soul.” That means:

    * If you’re groggy enough to buy a 12-pack of Red Bull at the higher price, you’re probably just half-awake and really should be in a coffee house instead.

    * If you’re awake enough to realize the price diff, you ether had your last Red Bull before you came into the store or you really don’t need Red Bull.

  44. algormortis says:

    5 Hour Energy is another one where the pricing can just be insane. I really hope you’re not using that as a mixer, though.

    At my local Walgreens:
    6-pack: $14.99
    2-pack: $3.99
    Singles: $2.49

    I prefer my method….
    At my local Costcult…er, Cultco…er, COSTCO…
    20-pack: $16.99

    The way I drink those things (and the way my Valued Associates steal them), trust me, that’s a heck of a deal.

    Plus, the megapack of toilet paper is like $11 with the current coupon. That just ups the win.

  45. Nytmare says:

    I learned from this story to be more vigilant at comparing quantity prices. On the planet I live on, it’s standard to price higher quantites at a LOWER rate due to economies of scale.

  46. mac-phisto says:

    @Hyland: i always wanted to be one of those marketing types that consults grocery stores on item placement. i hear they make buckets of money.

    slightly o/t, but has anyone else noticed “product segregation” where a particular brand is categorized based on its target audience? i’ve actually noticed some stores do that with red bull. instead of placing it with the other energy drinks, it is commingling with the mixers.

    certainly makes it tough to find stuff.

  47. brendanm14 says:

    @ Wal-Mart last night:

    2 pack Duracell AA batteries- 97 cents
    4 pack Duracell AA batteries- $3.17

  48. newspapersaredead says:

    I think this post misses the big picture. Are those tiny Red Bull cans really worth the cost, even at the lower price? Anyone who answers yes is an addict and you can’t think straight. If you need Red Bull to get through the day, you need more sleep. If you need it to be able to party through the night, you really don’t know how to party to begin with. Just saying.

  49. kris in seattle says:

    @8abhive: Agreed.

  50. ewray4381 says:

    This is just classic marketing. Studies upon studies have shown that it’s just human misconception. People think they’re getting a better deal if it’s marked “x for $X,” or something is $xx.99″ Of course $14.99 isn’t a better deal if it’s worth $15, but most people’s subliminal reaction is to think it is. It’s something about the human psyche that marketers are exploiting. Everyone is upset about this because we don’t like to think that we’ve been “had” by advertising. We like to see advertising and think that we’re not that gullible. In truth, there’s something out there that gets us all in one form or another.

  51. UpsetPanda says:

    Why do I keep seeing “3 for $12” signs in stores and under the big print in teeny print it says “Reg. price $4”? Seriously. I know people hate to add, and I’m no math whiz myself, but that’s just dumbing things down too much.

  52. synergy says:

    This is a pretty common occurrance with many things at the grocery store. Non-story.

  53. jenl1625 says:

    @backbroken: My brother thoroughly confused the folks at Kristal one time. The have their tiny sandwiches for $0.33, or 3 for $1.00. He asked them to ring up 3 individual sandwiches rather than the 3-sandwich $1.00 price. (Not that he cared that much about the penny, he just didn’t like to pay the extra on principal.) They told him they couldn’t.

    So he ordered 2, paid for them, and ordered a third with the change . . . .

  54. Major-General says:

    Bah, Red Bull is better in glass bottles than aluminum cans anyway.

  55. clevershark says:

    @Raiden47: “Why did this story make the front page?”

    Not everything here has to be scandals. Sometimes a “consumer tips” item comes along…

  56. clevershark says:

    @JD: I think it’s just a subtle encouragement for the customer to buy more. My grocery store does that too, but I can’t say it’s ever caused me to buy more than I needed just because it’s on sale…

  57. Wdeal says:

    I love Target, but I find not only the issue described here, but also significant price discrepancy among Target stores within a few miles of each other. I have 5 Targets within 8 miles of my house.

    Same items, same day — very different prices. Toothpaste Sonicare toothbrushes, Mach3 razors, various groceries….even the items on markdown with different markdown amounts in different stores.

    These are not weekly specials or promo prices, these are the everyday yellow/white Target shelf stickers.

    Best thing is to learn which stores have the best prices on what you buy and pick up when you are passing the Target with the better price.

  58. corbyz says:

    I see the same thing at Fry’s Electronics with regard to the pop machines. You can get a smaller can for 65 cents or something, or a plastic bottle for $1… but if you work out the cost per ounce, the can is cheaper. It doesn’t work out exactly even… you can’t get two cans and have the same amount as a bottle for less (it will be more)… but still….

  59. grebby says:

    Go to the supermarket and look at the different sizes of Heinz ketchup. The biggest bottle is not the cheapest, ounce-for-ounce. Companies love to make a buck off the consumer’s misconception that buying in bulk always saves money. This is how Sam’s Club stays in business. Their prices on most items are no better than anyone else’s.

  60. asherchang2 says:

    At my local asian supermarket, one bottle of Ramune costs less than a 6th of a Ramune 6 pack.

  61. julienne says:

    @ALGORMORTIS: Just really, really curious how you feel after the 20-pack of 5 Hour Energy er, nutritional supplements.

    My morning Pepsi Max/Anacin cocktail isn’t cutting it.

  62. clickable says:

    I saw this at Target ages ago, right when they first came out with the 12-packs. I’m awful at math, so I didn’t trust myself, and must’ve stood there 45 minutes calculating and recalculating because I was sure it was my own math that was wrong. I couldn’t believe the difference would be so significant.

    But I stopped buying the Red Bull at Target anyway, because since Shoprite started carrying the 12-packs, they are pricing them lower than Target – 19.56, or 1.63 a can.

    Target only beats that when it runs a special on the 4-pack, which they do occasionally.

  63. backbroken says:

    @jenl1625: Your brother is my new hero!

  64. jabbox1 says:

    Years ago when I worked for Red Bull the price was set by Red Bull. We didn’t sell to Target at the time, or have such fancy things like sugar free, but that was the way business was done. Could be different now, but I don’t drink the stuff so I never pay any attention to it.

  65. flackman says:

    A friend of mine has worked his way up in the Target Corporation. His entire job is setting the prices on drink products. He has a degree in economics and makes $150k a year. He’s 35.

    Pricing like this is not an accident, nor is it an entirely new concept.

  66. dale3h says:

    This is the same at Wal-Mart for Redbull. As soon as the price dropped from 6.89 per 4-pack to $5.89, I whipped out my phone, did the calculation, and since that day many many months ago, I haven’t bought a 12-pack of Redbull.

  67. XTC46 says:

    Hp did this with a lot of their ink for a while. Their combo packs actually ended up costing like 15 cents more to buy then if you bought them individually. now I think they fixed it.

  68. DanGarion says:

    Where is the mistake? If a retailer chooses to sell something that is in bulk for more then a smaller amount I don’t see the problem with it. They can charge whatever they want to the items, it’s the consumer that has to make the choice.

  69. whatdoitypeh says:

    @DanGarion: You’re right, there’s no mistake here. It’s not even a scam. But I have to say, I am not the kind of person who pays attention to prices, and I would probably go with the bulk item. This article has shown me that I need to check prices all the time!

  70. jimmyboy2 says:

    My wife and I shop for groceries at the Super Target a couple miles from our house. I can’t tell you how often this happens. They also mislabel regularly. I won’t let them start to ring my stuff up until it’s all on the belt and i can watch each thing go over the scanner. I save an average of $3-4 each time i go just by paying attention to prices that ring up much higher at the register.

    If you tell the clerk that the price was actually something else, they usually won’t even check. They just fix it on the register and keep scanning.

  71. Phas3Sh1ft says:

    In college I used to get 2 22oz of malt liquor for less than the price of a 40, plus 4 ounces!

    Then Safeway got smart, those bastards…

  72. You’re paying for the convenience of carrying twelve at once, rather than finding a way to carry three packs of four at once.