Is Target Intentionally Using Its "Special Deals" To Screw Over Customers?

Dan can do math in his head, which is a great skill these days when you’re checking out the n objects for x price! specials at Target. In this case, Dan notes that the “temporary price cut” is so temporary that it doesn’t even exist: you’ll pay 13 cents more per box if you buy three of them. This is the third Target “special” we’ve seen this month that screws the consumer. Are we seeing a new trend? Is it legal to call it a price cut if it’s not?

Update: here’s a better photo of the sign, as requested by EtoilePB:


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  1. Etoiles says:

    Is there are a larger photograph showing more of the “price cut” sign? Because the visible text all says General Mills but the price tag on the left is for Post Cereal.

    I’ve never actually seen a box of cereal next to its correct price tag in a Target. Those are the worst-arranged aisles in the history of retail, I think.

  2. Aristeia says:

    What’s even more *awesome* about these deals is that a lot of “n for X.XX” deals are pro-rated, so to speak. That is, in this case you might be able to buy just 1 box and get it for 1/3 the $8, or the “haha, you got screwed” price.

    I dunno if Target uses that system or not; I know some places do, some don’t. But if so, how messed up would that be? Not only is the “deal” worse than the original individual prices, but when scanned, you can’t avoid the “deal” prices!

    As is, I like to think that companies are not this exploitive and that such things are just mistakes. Of course, the cynic in me believes that all corporations are out to screw *everyone* just to make that extra buck.

  3. Aristeia says:

    @EtoilePB: Ah crap, i didn’t even notice that. That’s a good point.

  4. @EtoilePB: No, the price cut sign says Post. Read the bottom two.

    Also, I wish I could buy cereal at those prices! They’re 7$ each at my local grocer.

  5. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    If a company does this, I think it is fair. People should be able to do basic math, and should look at the prices of what they buy. If a company can get away with saying “Buy 1 of these for $3, or two for $7!” and someone buys the two at $7, it’s fair.

  6. teh says:

    @Aristeia: The state of California requires such deals to be pro-rated (which is why you will often see buy x get one free deals instead). Though I think they also have to give you the lowest advertised price which would require them to give you the 3 boxes for $7.62. Who wants to venture by Target and give it a try?

  7. @EtoilePB: Oh boo I see the better photo was by your request. Good eye.

  8. SuffolkHouse says:

    Better question:

    Is it legal to upcharge someone if you buy more of something?

    If I buy three boxes of cereal at 2.50 per box, can I legally be charged $10?

    I’m thinking that this can’t be legal.

  9. ludwigk says:

    Their “specially packed” Cheerios double box is more, oz per oz, than their biggest box of Cheerios (regular price) in the regular grocery part. Mathematically a lot of their “specials” are not designed to impart savings, just mislead consumers with flashy numbers.

  10. SkokieGuy says:

    @AlteredBeast: It’s common practice to bundle products to offer package deals that aren’t always a better deal, but to use the large type “Price Cut” when the price is increased is unethical at best and I suspect fraudulent.

  11. Franklin Comes Alive! says:

    So what? As I said in another thread, this is a tax on those who can’t do simple math. If Target makes a little extra $$ off stuff like this, I say good for them!

  12. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    @SkokieGuy: While it is misleading, you can ask the question “What is receiving the price cut?” Perhaps it is not in relation to the individual items, but a price cut on the overpriced bundle.

  13. SkokieGuy says:

    How is it a price cut on the overpriced bundle? Maybe if they said ‘3 for $10.00, now price cut to 3 for $8’?

  14. OldJohnRobinson says:

    I would ask (and there is no way of knowing probably) if the bin label on the shelf with the 2.54 price is old. If someone missed the price change for that item a month ago and it went up to $3.33 or some such, then the 3 for $8 would be an appropriate deal.

  15. Bladefist says:

    @Franklin Comes Alive!: Harsh Comment for a Consumer blog. But, I agree. I don’t think they should do knowingly do this. It’s deceptive. But if you fall for it, I also don’t feel bad.

    Prerequisites for being a citizen is 3rd grade math.

  16. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    @SkokieGuy: Yep, that’s pretty much what I meant…but perhaps it was just a 10 cent price cut, enough to justify the sign.

  17. Franklin Comes Alive! says:


    Part of being a good Consumerist is the ability to spot stuff like this and get the best deal you can.

  18. mariospants says:

    This IS hilarious and likely a very misleading offer. I’ve noticed this in the past at Target (but surprisingly nowhere else that I’ve noticed). I’d blame the error on staff just not updating the tags because every time I purchased items like this (whether or not I get the full “bundle”) they’ve always just charged me the cheaper price.

  19. CaptZ says:

    I agree that this is a stupid tax for those that can’t do math or not very observant. Good for Target for exploiting the poor public education in the US to make some extra scratch.

  20. Bladefist says:

    @Franklin Comes Alive!: Oh I agree. It was a formality to point it was harsh, before I blamed the OP (Had the OP fallen for it)

  21. Etoiles says:

    @Matthew Hughes: Thanks, and no worries. ;)

    I sympathize with the cost of cereal, by the way: I just moved away from New York City where I basically stopped eating it for years because the base price was $5.99 or $6.99 for most boxes. Although there was a Target in the Bronx where I could sometimes get deals… almost as good as the ones in this article. ;)

  22. AMetamorphosis says:

    What concerns me is should I choose to buy one box … what price will I pay ?

    Will it be the regular price of 2.54 or will I get the “enhanced” price of 2.66 or 2.67 (if rounding up) ?

  23. seismic007 says:

    Historically, I have observed Target pulling these shenanigans as long as I can remember. As a rule, I always compare unit prices before grabbing any special from a Target shelf. Target’s pricing strategy makes the same kind of logical sense as Best Buy’s “open items cost more than new items on sale” policy. As with all shopping experiences, caveat emptor.

  24. strayxray says:

    I’m unsure why people are so upset. The prices are clearly labeled. You buy one box of your favorite cereal for the price on the shelf. If you buy 3 boxes of either the same cereal or a mix of the listed cereals, you pay $8. I’m sure each of the cereals available for bundling in the 3 for $8 has a different price (some higher, some lower).

    If the individual price or the 3 for $8 package is not what you want to pay, then get in your car that burns ~$0.25 per mile and find a second grocery store. They are not the only vendor of cereal.

  25. cbartlett says:

    I’m with @OldJohnRobinson — I bet they just forgot to update the small sticker. But ya’ll feel free to spread your F.U.D.

  26. stacye says:

    @AlteredBeast: The legality of advertising it as a “Price Cut,” when in fact it is not, is what I take issue with.

    If it said buy 1 for $3 or 2 for $7 it’s still bad… but if they advertised the “Buy 2 for $7” as a price cut, then it’s a LIE.

    Since when did it become OK to lie to consumers? I can see corporations taking advantage of consumers and making it look like the 12 boxes of X is a sweet deal, but advertising it as a cheaper price is wrong no matter how you slice it.

  27. Caveat says:

    Lately at Wal-Mart many items have NO price shown. The price check self serve machines are either hidden away or not working. In these days and times retailers will try to take advantage of you any way they can.

  28. dry-roasted-peanuts says:

    You know, I’ll take the occasional price gouging at Target for the simple reason that those stores attract beautiful women like crazy.

    /well, at least the one I shop at.

  29. cerbie says:

    I’m confident that Target does this intentionally. I’ve never had to drag a cashier out to where I got the item (for when it rings up at 2x the shelf price), nor have I ever had any arguments when I asked to NOT get the bundled pricing (as in this post). If they made it an ordeal, I’d probably not shop there anymore.

  30. danep says:

    @Caveat: AFAIK, from my days working in retail, stores are required by law to mark the price of all items (the idea being to prevent price discrimination from one customer to the next). If this is really systemic as you claim, it might be worth researching the law and calling them out on it.

  31. RandomHookup says:

    @cbartlett: Perhaps they “forgot”…still makes it misleading. You decide to run a huge retail operation, changing prices is the cost of doing business.

  32. Shevek says:

    I don’t see how a ‘stupid’ tax could be said to apply here. This is a (small) step up from cheating customers out right. If companies swindle one customer, they’re swindling all of us, and not calling companies on it will just encourage them.

  33. ajc308 says:

    I think the main problem here is that if someone does actually buy 3 boxes, what does the cash register show? Because the register does not know if you recognized the scam or not, it just processes it.

    So recognize or not all you want, the main issue is what’s in their system when someone purchases 3 boxes.

  34. teapot37 says:

    I’ve never seen a shelf label at Target look like that. Especially with the red square part.

  35. ryan89 says:

    @teapot37: Unit pricing on grocery items at Super Targets.

  36. randombob says:

    Part of me wants to agree it’s a tax on the stupid people, but then again… if it automatically rings up at the “deal” price but I WANTED to buy three? then even though I can do math, they’re charging me extra.

    No, it’s just fraudulent, nothing more.

  37. BWoodle says:

    I registered specifically to make this comment. As an avid cereal eater, an occasional Target shopper, and a Honey Bunches of Oats (with almonds) lover – The OP is full of crap.

    I want a closer look at those $2.54 price tag – I can just about guarantee that those are for the 14.5oz (or smaller due to the shrink ray) boxes of cereal. 3/$8 on the 19-oz (family size) Honey Bunches of Oats is an excellent deal.

    $2.54/14.5 is ~17.5 cents per ounce
    $8/(19*3) is 14 cents per ounce

    I’m no fan of Target but I’m getting fed up with crap like this being posted to the front page of Consumerist. Everyone is berating this company for offering a sale (yes, it really is a sale). Shame on you all for not noticing this, especially after the new image was posted showing 19oz on the sign.

  38. audioblood says:

    I can’t attest to other Target stores, but I can say this about the one where I work (we are just about to celebrate our 1 year anniversary, so it’s a pretty new store): the salesfloor and stocking people CONSISTENTLY forget to remove old prices. They also “flex” items, which means they move them around on the shelf, so that the shelf looks nicer. which is fine, except for when an expensive item lands in front of a much cheaper tag, and we have to honor the price (as an example, somebody bought a 33 dollar racing toy for 11 dollars yesterday).

    also, it’s easy to get the cashiers to change the prices on items. we have the authority to change the prices on items, as long as the difference is not too big. a dollar or two, sure. we have neither the time or patience to check every item that may or may not be ringing up incorrectly. but if the price difference is large, we DO have to talk to our supervisors.

    anyways, chances are that a salesfloor person just forgot to take off the old label. most likely it would ring up at the cheaper price. if it didn’t, it’d be easy to convince the cashier to change ti

  39. snakeskin33 says:

    I agree that this one is highly suspect, as a result of the “temporary price cut” sign. It’s totally different, however, from the deodorant business, which was simply a matter of a higher unit price when you buy two in a pack, which is stupid, but not fraudulent. It’s also totally different from the ketchup thing, which is neither — the fact that you pay more for the same quantity when it’s broken up into two bottles logically reflects the fact that you’re paying for more packaging.

    I agree this one is bad, but I don’t agree that it’s the third of its kind. I do think it’s shady to advertise something as a sale that isn’t one, but the other stuff is just a matter of reading labels and deciding what you want to buy.

  40. bria says:

    But what if you want 3…. but for the normal price?

  41. s25843 says:

    Hi, I was the Original Submitter of the photos. I was curious as to what I was going to be charged, so I bought one.

    I paid $2.54 for the single box of Honey Bunches of Oats.

  42. stinerman says:

    Yes, in most locations if the price is marked as 2/$5, they have to sell you one for $2.50 unless otherwise clearly marked.

  43. SigmundTheSeaMonster says:

    This is a great tactic. Rather than discourage a shopper with an ad that “limits ONE(1) item per visit, per sale…”, they get you in that you can buy more, but at a penalty.

    It’s shady but they can do it as it’s advertised properly (if you can add, you see there is no bargain…just look at Sam’s club…just because it is bulk, doesn’t mean its a deal)

  44. tortcat says:

    We are not getting the whole story though. We are seeing only “one” brands price…yet the labels shows u can have any combo of 3 form the brands listed for $8.

    Every brand is different in price it is possible that buying 3 may save you money…, impossible to tell unless we can see all the prices for all the cereals listed.

  45. jamesmusik says:

    Pricing at Target varies a lot, because of local supply and demand, but the ads cover fairly large regions, so sometimes advertised prices will, as in this case, be higher than before. In that case, the item will NOT ring up for the “price cut” price, but the original price. The ad change team should NOT have put up the sale signs, but likely just didn’t realize that the price was higher. They just print the signs and put them where they go (or at least somewhere around where they go).

  46. Stormslanding says:

    Boo this man BOO him. General Mills cereals and Post cereals have different pricing depending on box size, type, etc. Perhaps if more investigating was done on the other cereals besides the one with the obvious clearance tag was done it may turn out that buying 3 boxes of cocoa pebbles for $8 is cheaper overall. Boo

  47. Adam W says:

    I have a good example of this happening in retail as well, its just that my store is smarter than this.

    I work at a new CVS store and am in charge of the alcohol sale signs weekly at my store. We sell 30 packs of Old Style and Old Style Light at a regular retail price of $12.49. Every once in a while corporate will advertise it on sale at $12.99. In that case, not only do we not hang the sign, but the register also continues to sell it at $12.49. If something is on sale and the regular retail is lower, the regular retail will always ring up.

  48. tkozikow says:

    Here’s a slightly different question…a local grocery store chain (Giant in the DC metro area) had a special on Coke products over July 4th. The advertised price on the 12 can ‘fridge pack’ was 5 for $10…must buy 5 to get sale price. The regular price was something like $2.79. What would happen if I bought five and then returned four? Should I expect an $8 refund?

    Also, has anyone tried to return a BOGO item? Do you get a refund for 50% of the unit price? My daughter bought some shampoo on a BOGO deal and realized that she hates the product. I suggested that she returned the unopened bottle.

  49. MexiFinn says:

    You know, I noticed the same, but with something different!

    I had to buy some toilet bowl cleaner, and I figured I would buy two (some type of Clorox with bleach). Right next was a “value pack” with two bundled together. Sure enough, the value pack was like 10c more expensive than two individuals. I even looked at the price/qt, and the “value pack” WAS in fact more expensive. I looked nearby, and some window cleaner was in a similar situation.

  50. Difdi says:

    This says it all, I think:


  51. medeamama says:

    I often see Target “price cut” tags over their regular tags and guess what? They have exactly the same prices. That is just misleading, and wrong, wrong, wrong!

  52. v0ice says:

    Target is garbage. They keep putting the burden on the customer with their crap. With their return policies, inability to have online items shipped to their stores, and now this, one can only surmise that they would like to be included in the next “worst company in America” contest.

  53. s25843 says:


    As said before, the Super Targets all have those tags, they aren’t clearance tags, they just show the unit price as well.

    The General Mills cereals were all priced no higher than $2.69, (but, they were significantly smaller boxes than the Post cereals)

  54. moethemoblin says:

    thats odd, it was just 4 for 7 last week.

  55. photogryphy says:

    Target’s registers only ring one-item pricing, so it will ring up the cheaper price. This store sells the cereal lower than most of the stores nationally because of the competition around it. Employees should have put up the Target sign that says: “Even Lower Than Our Advertised Price” and that prints with the new pricing.

  56. Marshfield says:

    If you’re a consumer that buys breakfast cereal, you can hardly beat the dollar store if you aren’t picky about brands. I’ve seen some quality items including raisin brans and other cereals for just $1.00 a box.

    Too bad not everyone has a dollar store conveniently located to them. For some items, they rock.

  57. IgnatiusPostumus says:

    Wow I must be bored I’m making a lot of comments tonight!

    Regarding this issue, I would imagine there was a price increase on the cereal (gee, can you imagine that?), but the label was either not changed or was accidentally removed (or taken out)…Target never upcharges for multiple quantities – the sign says 3 for $8 …so if you buy one it is $2.67…if you buy 2 its $5.33. If you buy 3 its $8….its like that throughout the store….and sometimes they will round up the “x for $x” just to make it a round number…but you’ll still get the lower price….and sometimes you’ll see weird numbers like 2 for 5.97 which always baffles me a bit….oh well….