Tips for dealing with inflation at the mall as some shoppers question discounts

At first glance, it may seem like the deals have never been better, as billboards in store windows and online ads tout a steady stream of holiday sales.

But some consumers say the discounts are more exaggerated than real, giving shoppers the illusion of a bargain rather than saving them money.

Call it crunch at the mall.

“Promotions look good this year, but regular prices have often gone up, so even if something is on sale, it may be more expensive than someone expected,” said retail expert Shobhit Khandelwal.

Higher regular prices, smaller discount percentages and fewer items on sale are just some of the trends consumers say they’ve noticed in Canadian stores in recent weeks.

Online shoppers also say they’ve found higher free shipping thresholds, a surcharge on some returns, and smaller discounts overall.

While deals are now spread over a longer period, giving people more time to hunt for bargains, experts say the spiraling cost of living still puts some consumers under pressure.

New research from Interac Corp. found that more than seven in 10 Canadians say rising inflation has made it more important than ever to feel in control of their money.

For shoppers on a budget, retail experts say there are tips and tricks to keep in mind to save money and not fall for the illusion of a deal.

“We’ve seen a return to promotions this holiday season, but it’s important to pay attention to the fine print,” said Tamara Szames, Canada Retail Industry Advisor at The NPD Group.

“If the sale is up to 40 percent off, the consumer really needs to be aware of the ‘up’,” he said. “Not all items in the store will be included in the sale, so you should try not to get sidetracked.”

Consumers should list and research prices before buying to find out if something is really a good deal or not, Szames said.

While inflation has pushed prices up at some stores, other retailers have used different methods to handle rising costs.

In grocery stores, for example, food manufacturers have used contraction inflation to keep prices the same, or slightly higher, by making the product smaller.

It is a technique used in other areas of the retail industry, including the clothing sector.

“When we talk about fashion, the closest thing to an ingredient in food is fabric,” Szames said. “If your favorite sweater used to be 100% cashmere, you should look carefully at the label before you buy it again. Now it’s maybe 90% cashmere and 10% polyester.”

Advances in fabric technology could mean the new blended fabric is of equal quality, but it’s important consumers are aware of the change, he said.

Khandelwal said holiday sales have always been hit or miss, as retailers try to lure customers into the store with explosive sales while keeping other items at regular price.

The difference this year is that inflation is driving all prices, including sales prices, higher, said the co-founder of startups ShyftLabs and Minoan Experience.

The trick for shoppers trying to control spending is not to buy more than they need, even if it’s on sale, he said.

“Make a list and stick to it and if you spend too much, most retailers have good return policies.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 1, 2022.

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