Math Problems: How Much Percent Off Is This?

Reader Nathan spotted these confusing sale signs at a Belk and can’t figure out how much off he’s supposed to get. Can you?


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  1. MikeF74 says:

    Confusing, but surprisingly accurate.

  2. PunditGuy says:

    Not a math problem — it’s math fail on your part. 40% off of prices that are already 50% off of the original price is a total of 70% off the original price. That’s what the sign says.

    • MB17 says:

      Could just put up a sign that says 70% off.

      • PunditGuy says:

        I imagine a lazy person failed to remove the 50% off sign. In any event, the sign isn’t confusing and I haven’t cracked open a math textbook in more than 20 years.

        • jnads says:

          No, I think the 50% sign was added after.

          People probably complained about getting 50% of the price as marked, when the sign CLEARLY says “Extra 40% off ORIGINAL price”.

          The sign is explaining the marked price is already 50% off the original price. Hence an additional 40% makes a total of 70% off.

      • drizzt380 says:

        But then you would have this situation.

        Get to counter.

        “Okay, thats $30”

        “What? $30!! It said it was 70% off and its marked as $50. It should be $15!! I would like to speak with your manager!!”

        They could just say 40% off, but I suppose some marketing guy decided it would be better if they knew how much Belk was really saving them. Confused customers be damned!!!

    • jeffile says:

      The sign clearly states total savings of 70% WITH an extra 40% off the current ticketed price with nothing connecting it to the separate sign stating 50% off original price. $100 purchase (item would be marked down from 200 to 100) with a 70% total savings would be $60 – the extra 40% of ticketed price is $40 for a sale price to customer of $20. Now,the other sign states 50% off which would be $100 so there is the obvious confusion. The two signs should have been one sign stating clearly the sale price. A glib lawyer could have a field day with this one.

      • cloudedknife says:

        “prices currently marked as 50% of original price”: THIS IS NOT A SALE, THIS IS AN EXPLANATION OF PRICE REDUCTION

        “70% off with an extra 40% off current ticketing price”: THIS IS AN EXPLANATION OF TOTAL AMOUNT SAVED INCLUDING 50% OFF SIGN. This sign makes no sense without keeping the 50% sign there because as PunditGuy already pointed out, the 40+50sales equal 70% total saved off of original price.

        This isn’t so much a math fail, or a store fail. It is a consumer reading comprehension fail. To the extent that we should actually _expect_ consumers to be barely able to comprehend 9th grade math this is a marketing fail as well. However, I’m not sure I wanna be here anymore if we need to expect that.

  3. The cake is a lie! says:

    Yeah, confusing as hell. Sometimes that works in your favor though. If it is confusing to you, imagine how confusing it must be to the cashier. When I went shopping for an engagement ring twelve years ago I found a sale like that. They ended up giving me 70% off and then an extra 40% off on top of that. The $3500 ring wound up only costing me about $650 if I remember right. I should have bought two of them… I’m pretty sure they weren’t supposed to combine discounts like that, but who am I to complain?

    • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

      Should have picked up two, you say? Polygamist eh? :D :D :D

      But yeah, sometimes being reasonable and getting the clerk to see things from the customer perspective is really helpful in getting good deals, especially when the discount signs are arranged in such potentially confusing fashions.

  4. Hi_Hello says:

    yup. 70% off. looks right.
    50% plus an extra 40% is 70%.

  5. acknight says:

    For an example item that was originally $100, 50% off ($50 – marked clearance price) less 40% would in fact be $30, or 70% off the original $100 – which, while an exceptionally confusing way of writing it, is technically correct, unless I’m missing something else…

  6. Mpowered says:

    (1- 0.5) * (1-0.4) = .5 * .6 = .3 = 1-0.7= 70% off.

  7. MDSasquatch says:

    Start out with a $100 item; take the 50% off sale and you have $50; 40% of $50 is $20; $50 – $20 = the total of $30 OR 70% off the original price

  8. Rebecca K-S says:

    This isn’t even a Phil post!

  9. Cat_In_A_Hat says:

    My educated guess: If the original price of item x was $10 and the listed price on the ticket is $5 50% off the original 10 and you take an extra 40% off (another $2 off of the $5), the cost of the item should be $3 which is a 70% savings off the original $10. Although confusing, the signs are actually mathematically accurate.

  10. mdclarinet says:

    In many situations like this they’ll say “take an additional 20% off” which makes the grand total discount 60% while looking like 70% to the easily mislead. In this case they’re not going to bother with the misleading wording because nobody’s going to believe it’s 90% off!

  11. Salty Johnson says:

    I could be the tenth person to comment on how you come up with the 70% off number, but instead I’ll just sit here and laugh at how simple the math is and wonder why there’s a Consumerist article about it.

    • Kibit says:

      I was thinking the same thing! As soon as I saw it I thought to myself, why is this confusing? it is a total of 70% off. :D My next thougt was, and why is this on Consumerist?

  12. Wireless Joe says:

    $100 dollar item -40% = $60
    $60 -50% =$30, which is 70% off the original $100 price.

    Not a math wiz.

  13. sufreak says:

    Reader Nathan needs to retake elementary/middle school math.

    • denros says:

      Debatable, but either way Belk needs to fire their copy writer. The 50% off is entirely redundant. Nobody cares what the price was last week!

      • sufreak says:

        Actually, thats totally incorrect. The price last week lets people feel like they’re saving a great deal of money, rather than payer more than they should for something that cost 20 cents to make.

  14. Jennifer says:

    Let’s say the item was originally $10. Now the price marked on the item is $5 – because “price marked is 50% off original price.”

    Now, take an “extra 40% off the current ticketed price.” That’s 40% of $5, which is $2. So take that $2 off, and now the price is $3.

    The original price was $10, now it’s $3 — so that’s $7 off, which is 70%.

  15. feralparakeet says:

    Actually it does make sense. Let’s assume that an item was initially listed at $50. With half off, that’s $25. Another 40% off make it $15. Taking 70% off of the initial price of $50 would still leave a final price of just $15.

    Adding percentages can be confusing, but it does actually work.

  16. Tim says:

    Is in indeed correct, but it’s unnecessarily confusing to customers who don’t really want to work out an algebra problem while shopping.

    • balthisar says:

      What algebra problem? That price tags on the items already reflect a 50% off the original price. They’ve been on sale. Rather than change all of the tags, the sign says you get 40% off of the marked price. If the marked price is $10, you’re only doing basic arithmetic: You get the item for $6.

      This is common retail practice, and has been for a long time.

  17. Sheila says:

    Using their math you get:

    $20.00 / 50% = $10.00 x 40% off = $6.00

    $6 is 30% of $20.

  18. _UsUrPeR_ says:

    ok, so let’s see…

    let x = original price (we’ll say a $100 jacket)

    (( $100 * .5) * .4 ) = x
    ( $50 * .4 ) = x
    $20 = x

    *UNLESS you consider the marking in the lower-right corner of the top 70% sign, which says that there’s an extra 40% off the original price. In that case:

    ( $100 * ( 1 – ( .5 + .4 ) ) ) = x
    ( $100 * ( 1 – .9 ) ) = x
    ( $100 * .1 ) = x
    $10 = x?

    So I am intrigued. What was the actual cost of a coat originally priced at $100?

    • _UsUrPeR_ says:

      Wait, I did this totally wrong. You know what? Just don’t ever go to that store again, and everything will be fine.

    • Rebecca K-S says:

      Are you the one who sent this in?

      50% off of $100 leaves you $50. 40% off of $50 leaves you $30, for a total of 70% off of the original price.

    • erinpac says:

      No, that lower right text says an extra 40% off the CURRENT ticketed price, which is *already* 50% off the original.

  19. crushthemall says:

    Not confusing. The signs explain everything you need to know. If you can figure it out, you get 70% off. If you can’t, you only get 50% and a slap across the chops for not being able to use your junior high education.

    My dog figured this out correctly and he can’t even read good.

  20. Papa Bear says:

    Could have been stated much better, but it’s not that confusing. 50% off is half price. Now take another 40% of of that for a total of a 70% discount.

    For example: $10 – 50% = $5. $5 – 40% = $3. $3 is 70% 0ff the original price of $10.

    From my days in retail, displays like this are best suited to a store or department setting where there are actual sales people. The point of the display is to get the customer to ask a sales person for assistance in figuring out the price. This gets dialogue going and gives the sales person the opportunity to provide options up sell. In a discount store, it is just a waste of signage.

    • Erika'sPowerMinute says:

      Gotta disagree with you there. I’ve also worked retail, and I’m married to a retail muckety-muck, and lemme tell you, the vast majority of the time the customer won’t take the time to ask about a price. You *have* to clearly communicate the price so the customer can decide at a glance whether he’s interested or not–otherwise he’ll keep walkin’.

      Besides, that pile of signs just plain looks like shit.

      To move clearance softlines, you have to:

      A) keep it sized; your casual browser doesn’t want to dig through an entire rack, but might just take 30 seconds to flip through the fraction of the rack that contains his size and grab an item or two;

      B) CLEARLY communicate the price range. The proper sign would be

      Up to 70% Off
      $19.99 And Under

  21. ahow628 says:

    Consumerist: I was going to donate $100 with 50% off with 40% off the current donation amount, for a total of 70% savings to my pocketbook. But in true Consumerist form, I got scared and decided to write this post instead of donating.

  22. haggis for the soul says:

    Mathematically correct even if it goes contrary to immediate perception. They’d do better with just one sign stating 70% off.

    • KhaiJB says:

      that’s the actual point.
      seeing that, I’d ask which sign is the one I should take notice of. is it 70% off or 50% off? is it 70% off then 50% off that? or the other way round?

      it’s not the math that’s the question.. it’s clarity…

      • Rebecca K-S says:

        Actually I’d wager the point is more that the items were already 50% off, and the additional 40% off is a temporary markdown, hence the double signage.

        • Michaela says:

          That’s the usual case at the store my grandmother goes to. A ton of racks are 50% off, and then an additional percentage is taken off to achieve 60%, 70%, and 80% off racks.

  23. Sean says:

    Agree with MikeF74.

    Take a $100 original price item. They mark the price down by 50% that makes it $50. If you then take another 40% off the current ticketed price of $50 that would be another $20 off for a final price of $30. Hence the total of 70% off.

  24. chiieddy says:

    Correct and a standard sign at Macy’s.

    50% off 100 = 50
    40% off 50 = 30 [50 – 20]

    100 – 30 = 70

    70% total

  25. carlosdelvaca says:

    The real problem here is that he’s shopping at Belk.

    • Thassodar says:

      WE HAVE A WINNER!!! There’s always someone who berates someone for shopping at XYZ store, and you’re the first for this post. CONGRATULATIONS!!!

  26. Good Cop Baby Cop says:

    Is it my turn to say this?

    I make my own math at home.

  27. chucklebuck says:

    Where the trouble’s really gonna start here is that, in all likelihood, a good number of the prices marked will NOT be 50% off the original prices. They’ll instead be a hodgepodge of 30%, 70%, and other less evenly divisible by 10 numbers in between. This seems to be the case in every clearance section I shop. On the plus side, it also usually works out in my cheap arse’s favor.

  28. Raanne says:

    um, 70%? because 40% off of an object that is marked down to 50% is 70%? plus, there is a big sign that says “total savings of 70%”?

  29. dolemite says:

    A lot of people are stating “oh, it’s common math…it works out!” Yeah, it does, but you can’t honestly say that isn’t confusing.

  30. katarzyna says:

    It isn’t even that complicated or confusing.

    • rambo76098 says:

      No kidding, people are just dumb. It clearly says the final percent off, and how they got there.

  31. jefeloco says:

    Come on fellow commenters, don’t confuse the issue with facts and reading comprehension!

  32. vastrightwing says:

    Now image if this was a Verizon store!

  33. Jimmy12345 says:

    Just take 40% off the prices that are marked. This is basic math and if you failed basic math or cant do it in your head, just take out your cell phone and use the calculator, if you can’t use a calculator…………

    If this is too much work you can certainly go pay retail and leave more sales to me and other that can.

  34. Mcshonky says:

    This is a consumerist article because although you may be able to figure it out others may not be able to.

    A good business would simply have one of the signs to represent to final sale savings.

    This sort of slight of hand can be used by sales people -insurance, investment or bankers- to trick elderly or unsophisticated people into receiving LESS of a bargain than they deserve.

    And I notice all you math geniuses used simple $100 or $10 mounts to illustrate your points instead of more real world pricing.

    Consumerist exists for the community and not for the few.

    If you’re young, read that thing about the elderly or disabled, you, your friends, or parents/grandparents may know someone that can benefit from your passing it along.

    The receipt check stories are a reminder of your rights. Show it if you want or don’t but know what you can be forced o do by a store, their management or security team and know what your rights are when the police get involved.
    Being able to articulate your position FACTUALLY to the police can save your ass when an employee for a corporation claims X and uses the “authority” of their size against you to an officer .

    Consumerist is here to inform and make you think of how to make big and small purchases alike so that IF something goes wrong you’re ready to rumble.

    Do your research.
    Never be rushed into a purchase -almost sure sign of a scam or bad deal.
    Pay by credit card for any big purchase, never debit and never by cash.
    Get your salesperson’s card after the sale so you have a name to associate with the transaction.
    Always get it in writing.
    Have a pen -that works- and paper before you dial the number.
    Know your states policy on recorded calls -better to record and be unable to use it than not to record I say-.
    Scan your receipts so you have proof of purchase -ever notice how that ink fades in just a few months.
    Call up and write the company about good and great service.
    Expect to tip a minimum of 15% at a restaurant and if there is a problem with service deal with it immediately, sometimes it’s not the servers fault and they should not be penalized by a small tip.

    I said it
    I meant it
    I’m here to represent it

  35. Diamond jim says:

    Original markdown is 50% of price as sold in store. To get a “total savings” of “70%” take an additional 40% of the 50% and add the results to 50% or take the 50% and multiply by 1.4. Same results.

  36. coren says:

    I’m fucking ecstatic to see (almost) every comment nail the math exactly. Yay consumerist readers :)

    JC Penny does this shit. All. The. Time. It’s easy to figure out, but it’s annoying. So why would they post this confusing sign?

    Most people are going to see the 70 percent total savings and go to town with that. They’re not going to try and do “complicated” math. They’re not going to realize (until checkout) that their 70 percent is actually only 40 percent off what’s marked (still a significant savings!). And once they’re at the register, and that 10 dollar item rings up at 6 bucks instead of 3…well they might not change their mind. Deceptive? You betcha. Effective? I’ve been behind people caught up in this exact thing, so in at least some cases, yeah.

    • sharkzfanz says:

      I don’t see how it is deceptive.. Total savings of 70% is in huge print. Seems clear.. Its a total savings of 70%. The rest is confusing but that much is simple and true.

      • coren says:

        Total savings of 70 percent doesn’t sound like “we already discounted it and you’re getting a different percent off” – not to a lot of people.

  37. HeavyMental says:

    go to the cashier and argue that it’s supposed to be 70% for an additionnal 40% it’s written

  38. Raanne says:

    The reason they post the sign: because they have permanently marked the items down by 50%. They have a temporary sale where you can receive an additional 40% off of the mark down price. This will probably go back to being the “normal” clearance price in a few days. It is much easier to add a topper to the existing sign letting the customer know about the additional percentage off.

    Honestly – the store shouldn’t have to assume that most people didn’t complete middle school math. Not to mention that the sign DOES THE MATH FOR YOU by telling you what the total percentage off is after the additional 40%.

    • RandomHookup says:

      Actually, I would argue they aren’t doing the math for me because then they would simply tell me the final price of the item, discounts be damned.

      I would wager that percentages and fractions are the part of basic math that most confuse the average shopper. You give me a number that is the discount (say 20%) and I multiply that by the price of the item I want and _then_ I have to subtract this new number from the price of the item. Not that hard when it’s round numbers, but a bit tougher when the price is $12.75.

      The signs are all needed for them to make sense, but it’s still a bit of a shell game for the average consumer (knowing that all Consumerist commenters are above average). It takes some mental gymnastics to know that to get the final price of the items, I must figure out 60% of the price on the merchandise.

  39. PupJet says:

    Why couldn’t they just put “40% off CURRENT ticketed price” instead? Even though the math was the easy part for me, it would be easier to just put how much more OFF you get on the CURRENT ticket price.


    Original Price: $100
    TICKETED Price: $50
    Additional Discount: 40% off TICKETED price.

    That’s just my 70% of 2 cents worth. LOL

  40. Raanne says:

    The reason they post the sign: because they have permanently marked the items down by 50%. They have a temporary sale where you can receive an additional 40% off of the mark down price. This will probably go back to being the “normal” clearance price in a few days. It is much easier to add a topper to the existing sign letting the customer know about the additional percentage off.

    Honestly – the store shouldn’t have to assume that most people didn’t complete middle school math. Not to mention that the sign DOES THE MATH FOR YOU by telling you what the total percentage off is after the additional 40%.

    • Raanne says:

      ugh – sorry for the double post. When I initially hit submit, I got an error where it said it didn’t go through.

  41. davidsco says:

    And the sad thing is, Neither one makes any difference. Retail pricing is nothing more than a BS game anyway.

  42. fr34k says:

    Not hard at all, the item hit clearance was repriced 50% less than the original, but they still didnt sell now they are on this rack giving another 40% off of the Current marked price.

    Others have posted the math of how that makes 70%

  43. Outrun1986 says:

    I use a price scanner, if I REALLY want the item then I will go up to the cashier and ask them to do a price check to get the actual price they will charge me. If its a clothing item I usually do this before even trying it on. A couple teachers who used to work retail taught me clear back in high school that even if you do the math correctly the price that the item rings up in the register will be different. Since I am going to be charged whatever the price is that rings up in the register this is what I do. If I can prove its the wrong price with math then hopefully I won’t have to argue too much to get them to honor the correct price.

  44. Pax says:

    The sign is entirely accurate and non-confusing.

    Everything is marked for 50% of the MSRP.

    The sale will discount that amount by 40%, or two-fifths, at the register.

    The final price will therefor be three fifths (3/5) of the as-marked half (1/2) price.

    3/5 of 1/2 is 3/10 … or 30%. Which means you will be paying 30% of the MSRP, which means, the items are selling for 70% off of the MSRP.

    Exactly as the sign says.

    How is it confusing to anyone who actually READS it, instead of just looking for the big, context-deprived numbers?

  45. Kibit says:

    Not confusing. Just read the sign.

    The price marked is 50% off. Take an extra 40% of the marked price and the total discount is 70% off the original price.

  46. ogsoleysol says:

    TOTAL savings of 70%. That was hard…. Further evidence of the lack of math literacy.

  47. DanGarion says:

    Yes, 70%. Let’s look at it this way an item is retail $100, then you mark it down 50% to $50, and last you take an extra 40% off so that makes it $30. How hard is this to understand? Hell they even have it listed that it’s a total savings of 70%.

  48. The Marionette says:

    Sounds like “reader nathan” needs to open up a math book again since it isn’t confusing in the least bit, but again some people don’t surprise me………

    • RandomHookup says:

      Anytime you deal with percentages (beyond the most basic), you have room for confusion because you need to figure out the inverse and do multiplication on what may be non-round numbers. Throw in a couple of additional percentage discounts and it gets really rough for the average person because it’s not a skill most people have retained.

  49. CapitalC says:


  50. osiris73 says:

    I’d like to propose that henceforth, those Consumerist readers who find this confusing be given some sort of tag or moniker next to their name. In addition to this tag, we need to be given a filter with which we can block those with said tag.

    All in favor say, “Aye!”

  51. raybury says:

    Ticketed price (“price marked”) reflects 50% off original price, according to the framed sign.

    Taking an extra 40% off the ticketed price results in 70% total savings, according to the sign topper.

    Take a 99.99 item, deduct 50% and it is ticketed at 49.99. Deduct a further 40% from the new base value of 49.99 and you get 29.99, which is 70% off 99.99.

    Then recall that no one need ever have paid 99.99 for the item in question for it to be advertised this way. In order to pass muster with state laws, items usually must be offered at their full price for a handful of days each month while it could have spent 90% of its time on the sales floor, and seen 100% of its sales, at a much lower price.

  52. El_Fez says:

    Lets see 70 percent off with an extra 40% of that and then the 50% off the original price – that like 160% off! They pay you to take the item? Sweet!

  53. Bryan Price says:

    50% off original price, say $10.00, leaving $5.00.

    40% off current price, leaving $3.00.

    70% savings would be $3.00, which equals the $3.00 from the above.

    Works for me.

  54. JoeTaxpayer says:

    A $100 item is marked $50. At register, they take off 40% (of the $50) for a final price of $30 or 70% off the original price. Nathan needs to learn his 5th/6th grade math.

  55. dwasifar says:

    I can’t believe anyone is confused by this. The sign is perfectly clear.

    The marked price is 50% off the original price.

    The discount price is 40% off the marked price.

    This works out to 70% off the original price. The sign is clear and correct.

    Why should this be hard? Think of it starting with a price of $100 if you’re still having trouble. 50% off makes a marked price of $50. 40% off of $50 leaves $30. That’s 70% off the original price of $100.

  56. u1itn0w2day says:

    Take an extra 40% off the items already marked/priced with a 50% reduction. 70% sounds good to me.

  57. Good Cop Baby Cop says:

    Surely there must be more people dying to tell everyone how smart they are.

  58. sumocat says:

    Looks more like a geography problem to me, as in guess which part of the country Nathan is from based on the primary locations of Belk stores. Or perhaps a construction problem, as in figure out which part of the sign was there first and which part was stacked on top of it to indicate further price reduction. Not that it matters. If you can’t figure out the sign, you’re probably not able to figure out the amount of the discount if you knew what the correct percentage is.

  59. rambo76098 says:

    Clearly you add them all together and get 160% off. Duh.

  60. Futurehouse says:

    The reason they do the sign this way has to do with them not wanting to actually re-ticket all the items. They put one sticker on an item that is 50% off the original price. This item has been “marked down” and the new permanent price of the item is the 50% off price on the ticket.

    Then, they are running a temporary sale. This sale is 40% off. So, the 40% sale is on the new permanent price, which is 50% off of the original price. Thus, the TOTAL savings off the item is 70%.

    Stores do it this way so that they avoid the labor of putting new price stickers on items, and then un-stickering them after a sale.

    Of course, one thing to watch out for is the “original price”. When I worked at MayCo (back in 1990), they were under investigation for listing an original price that the item had never sold at. It was original price on the truck to the store, and was then marked down the moment it arrived in the building.

  61. jeffile says:

    I’m sorry but this is as clear as the contents of Obamacare. For those who read bottom to top then the 70% makes sense (50% of original price + extra 40% equalling 70%). However, the vast majority have learned to read top to bottom and left to right. The top sign reads total savings of 70% and then upon reading further down (like most of us read) “with an additional 40% off the current ticketed price”. For those who read bottom to top, an original $200 item would cost $60 but to the vast unwashed masses who read top to bottom the price is $20.