Kohl’s Math Means Percentages Don’t Make Any Sense

In retail, Target Math is when one of two things happen: an item on sale isn’t actually marked down (sometimes it becomes more expensive) or an item becomes more expensive when you buy it in greater quantities. Maybe we need to start tracking a new variant called Kohl’s Math, where percentage-off signs don’t actually reflect the “sale” price that they’re supposed to.

Kohl’s, after all, is a store where merchandise is perpetually on sale, and percentages are essential to its business model. A few years ago, a reader wrote in, horrified at a sign informing customers that a sale taking 65% off, then 25% off, since this did not mean that the merchandise was now 85% off.


Reader Matt noticed this sign at Kohl’s, which advertises 50% off a shirt that originally cost $44, making it $19.99. No, that’s not how percentages work unless you’re rounding down to the closest $10, which isn’t a thing that any retailer does.

Shoppers have accused Kohl’s of posting prices that don’t reflect reality in other, less consumer-friendly ways: customers in California sued the retailer, accusing it of posting “original prices” that no one had ever paid on their merchandise, giving customers a false impression of how much money they saved. Wouldn’t saving 54.5% be better than saving 50%?