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ConsumerWatch: Investigation Finds Kohl’s Sale Prices Aren’t Always A Deal

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The exterior of a Kohl's department store. (Douglas McFadd/Getty Images)

The exterior of a Kohl’s department store. (Douglas McFadd/Getty Images)

SACRAMENTO (CBS) – Frequent sales and huge discounts are strategies that have kept many Kohl’s shoppers coming back time and again –  but are Kohl’s sale prices always as good as they seem?

A CBS hidden-camera investigation conducted between November 2011 and January 2012 found items marked up as much as $100 from earlier prices, and then put on sale.

Pattie Woody recently came home thinking she got 50 percent off a $209.99 sheet set from Kohl’s.

But inside the packaging, she found another price tag — this one listed at $169.99 — $40 cheaper than the outside sticker.

“It really surprised me,” she said.

She still believed she had gotten a good deal, but peeling back three layers of price stickers, she found her sheet set had been marked up three times, she said.

“You always expect to see the price tag stuck on top of another one is the cheaper price,” said Woody. “Actually, it was more expensive.”

CBS hidden cameras went inside several Kohl’s stores, checking the printed price tags of some items currently on sale.

A CBS producer found clothes, luggage, kitchen, bath and bedding products — 15 items in all — marked up.  Some of the items were as much as $100 more expensive.

Other items have different price tags on different areas of the product.

One twin sheet set was listed at 50 percent off the original price of $89.99. But inside the plastic zipper, the earlier price tag shows $49.99, indicating the current sale is only $5 savings from the original tag.

A 10″ skillet was listed on sale for $34.99, with a regular price of $39.99, but underneath that sticker, the earlier price tag was marked $29.99 — meaning Kohl’s current price on sale is $5 more than the originally marked price.

Consumer attorney Stuart Talley thinks if Kohl’s is marking up prices to mark them down. If so, the company is breaking California State law, which bans companies from “making false or misleading statements” about the “amounts of price reductions.”

“That’s illegal in California,” Talley said. “You just can’t do it.”

When CBS reached out to Kohl’s, the company denied any wrongdoing, saying, “Kohl’s does not raise “off-sale” prices on a short-term basis just for purposes of a future sales event.”

“As is common in the retail industry, from time to time, product prices are increased due to production and raw material cost increases,” the statement said. “When these types of price increases are implemented, our stores are instructed to re-ticket all items currently in our inventory to match the prices on the tags for all in-coming merchandise.”

Read Kohl’s full statements to CBS (PDF).

Kohl’s claimed the price of Woody’s sheets went up because of the rising cost of cotton, and admitted the prices on the 15 items a CBS producer found marked up were raised in the late summer or early fall — well before the current sale.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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