The Anatomy of a Cyber Monday Hustle

How fake prices can make it seem as if you're getting a deal, when you're really paying full price
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Last year, my wife received a fancy blender as a thank-you gift for delivering a lecture. The Breville BBL605 XL is a nice blender with a built-in smoothie setting and everything.

When my dad came to visit, he employed this smoothie setting and was delighted with the results. (He makes a lot of smoothies.) So, I figured I'd get him his own Breville BBL605 XL for Christmas. 

Like a good American I thought I might get a Black Friday/Cyber Monday deal on the blender this weekend. So, I popped the model number into Google.

Instead of a bargain, I found a Macy's hustle. It highlights the way retailers use the hype around these imaginary shopping holidays to dupe consumers into paying full price while they think they're getting a deal. 

Here was the blender in Macy's mobile catalog on Friday:

There are two things to notice:

1) Holy moly, this is an expensive blender!

2) And yet, a 40-percent discount seems like a lot! ​I did the math really quickly: 334.99-(0.4*334.99)=$200.99

Sorry, Dad, even with the discount, you're not getting a $200 blender. But hey, it seemed like a good deal.

At least until I googled around a little more for the blender. Every other store on the Internet was offering the same item for $200 or less! 

I went to Macy's again this morning on my computer (out of spite). Of course, the supposed Black Friday deal was not a Black Friday deal. And I noticed a link that wasn't available on the mobile site. It said, "Pricing Policy."

"'Regular' and 'Original' prices are offering prices that may not have resulted in actual sales, and some 'Original' prices may not have been in effect during the past 180 days," it read (emphasis added).

In other words, they may not have sold a single blender at $334.99 and they may not have even tried to price the blender that high. To call the price "Regular" is a lie. And they think they can tell it because they've added this link.

Perhaps they should change the name of the Pricing Policy to "Caveat Emptor."

If you still want to bargain hunt, I'd stop doing the research yourself and trust the folks at The Wirecutter, who are hand-selecting the best (real!) deals right now.

 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com, where he also oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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