LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Bargain shoppers know that you often can peel away layers of sale stickers to get to the original price of an item – but what if you found the lowest stickered price was actually buried under a bunch of higher prices?

CBS2’s Sandra Mitchell reports on a hidden camera investigation into the popular department store chain Kohl’s. The report found that over and over again items were marked up with stickers covering lower prices underneath before they went on sale.

Kohl’s customer Patty Woody thought she got a deal when she bought Vera Wang sheets that cost $209 for 50 percent off. However, when the shopper brought them home a price tag inside the packaging revealed the sheets were originally $169 – a $40 difference.

“It really surprised me,” Woody said.

So is Kohl’s raising its prices before they place merchandise on sale?

According to a store manager, “The price always fluctuates. It’s always different depending on what sells. I can’t guarantee that it will be $249 tomorrow. It might be more or it might be less depending on what sale’s going on. But, you’ll never pay full price for it.”

The CBS2 investigation examined seven Southern California Kohl’s store locations, from Seal Beach to Monrovia to Westchester, and found questionable price tags at each location.

Several times we found price tags on top were higher prices than the tags below.

A pair of Levis 501’s at a Cypress location were priced at $64 but peeling back the price tag revealed a tag for $58. Peel the tag again and the original price tag read $48.

The jeans were marked up $16 and then placed near a digital sale sign that read “Buy One Get One Half Off”.

(credit: CBS)

After examining the investigation’s hidden camera footage the CEO of a retail consulting firm was surprised by what we found.

“If it’s sloppily done and you can see two price tags then we’re kind of curious. We like to see what’s under the covers, sure,” said CEO Harry Friedman.

Friedman said Kohl’s has every right to raise its prices but, according to federal law, it cannot be in a way that deceives customers.

The Manufacturer’s suggested retail price, or MSRP, is just the beginning, said Igo Reyes of the L.A. County Department of Consumer Affairs – stores cannot raise prices just for a sale.

“If a store simply raises the price just temporarily for a few days so that they can then claim that the item is discounted substantially off the inflated phony price, then that’s very deceptive. And clearly that’s what the legislation intends to prohibit,” Reyes said.

California state law bans companies from making false or misleading statements about the amounts of price reductions.

CBS2 contacted Kohl’s and specifically asked about price changes and special sales. They responded via e-mail:

“…From time-to-time, product prices are increased due to production and raw material cost increases. When these types of price increases are implemented, our stores are instructed to re-ticket all items currently in our inventory…”

Despite what the investigation found throughout their stores, Kohl’s said price increases are not common.

If you feel you’ve been a victim of deceptive sales practices contact the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer Affairs at DCA@dca.lacounty.gov or call (800) 593-8222.

Comments (33)
  1. tom brenzel says:

    what you reported about kohl’s pricing is nothing unusual. happens not only with kohl’s but also other outfits. where and how have you guys been shopping. never paid attention to the price tags? i have been peeling them back for years, taken it to the counter and got the price and discount.

    1. Robert T Loewen says:

      Walmart is no better. I worked as a front end cashier and can not only attest, but confirm that Walmart Does the same thing if not worse. I will attest to it on camera and force them to attempt to sue me and LOSE!.

  2. Eric says:

    As a long-time retail professional, this story is absolutely reprehensible. What this story has done is encourage shoppers to deface the price tag any time a sticker is placed on the tag, and to demand the lower price, even if the price change is absolutely valid. By defacing the price tag, the customer is committing a misdemeanor crime. Altering a price tag for the purpose of receiving a discount is illegal, and people are arrested for that on a regular basis.

    Is Kohl’s committing fraud? No. Is Kohl’s engaging in questionable business practices? Absolutely. Is it legal? At the moment, yes it is. There is no law on the books that I am personally aware of that says a business cannot raise its prices however it sees fit to do so, and then run whatever sales it chooses to run. That’s a simple fact.

    1. Hugh J. says:

      I think you’re confused. There is a major difference between defacing a price tag in order to get a lower price that was never there in the first place (which is fraud on the part of the person defacing the tag) and trying to find out what the price of the item legitimately used to be before the latest price sticker was placed on it.

      In the former case the “customer” would take the item to the register and hope it rings up the false amount and nobody notices. In the second, the customer shows the clerk both the tag underneath and the top tag and asks the store to honor the lower price, which the store has every right to refuse to do.

      One is done in transparency while the other is done deceptively. You need to figure out the difference.

    2. Goo Gone is your best friend! says:


      Calm it.

      Take a breather.

      Walk it off.

      Turn of the interwebs.

      Go for a walk.

      Drink some water.

      Get som perspective.

  3. El says:

    Shame on you for trying to put Kohls out of business. This is a great store, and there fantastic savings to be found thruout the store. This story is really a way to fill up air time.That woman that ‘reported the travesty’ will probably sue the chain, and they’ll be forced to close their doors. Wouldn’t that be great that CBS put so many people out of jobs. Shame, shame, shame, it disgusted me to even hear this story, guess we just don’t want anyone to make a profit in America, and want everything for free? What a waste and this was not worthwhile.

  4. Ironlaw says:

    On the contrary, I think what this story has done was expose the standard practices of almost all retailers so people can be more educated about outrageous margins they charge to keep shareholder value. This is good because raising a price and and having a sale is deceptive.

    If retailers are worried about this, then use the UPC on the product or remove the old stickers problem solved. Just use shelf talkers or have a price scanner or two available for people to dbl check.

    Peeling back a price sticker is not altering anything nor is it a crime provided it’s on the original package and no attempt has been made to obtain the merchandise under false pretenses. In fact, I can stuff things in my pockets and walk around the store all I want. As long as I don’t break the threshold of the exit there’s nothing that they can do. They could, but it’ll be a nice payday for false imprisonment.

    What you’re most likely referring to is “tag switching” which, yes, is illegal.

  5. J says:

    I’m a cashier at Kohl’s and I can honestly say I have never come accross this at my store.

  6. J says:

    What you do is you ask to speak to a manager and request the sale percentage be taken off of the original price if it is cheaper and if they refuse to give it to you then you don’t buy the item from there. It’s as simple as that.

  7. Tony says:

    JCP is paying for this to become an issue…. They go away from price signs and this comes up with with Kohl’s? JCP is only trying to hurt Kohl’s because there afraid Kohl’s will get them out of business. Business do have the right to higher there prices like every where else. JCP is now changing there price tags on a monthly basis. Your just not seeing it because they are replacing the whole price tags not just a sticker over the original price tag.

    1. ex says:

      Worked at Kohls and a manager actually said that they put Mervyns out of business and now they’re working on Penneys. Kohls has to do something to balance out the losses from all the shiplifting at the stores. They understaff (to increase thier profits) and merchandise literally walks out the door. So raising prices before putting them on sale helps recoup thier losses.

      1. Liz S. says:

        That’s messed up.

  8. ginny says:

    I’ve found this to be a common practice at Macys as well. But, shoppers need to pay attention to the sale signs, coupons, etc. The wording usually says % off ‘original’ price, or that certain types of items not included in the sale discount. That’s where the consumer gets hooked more often. Shoppers also tend to take an item off of one rack and when they decide they don’t want it, they dump it anywhere they are in a store, so someone else may pick it up and think its on sale when it isn’t.

  9. derek says:

    Hah, Welcome to the Los Angeles business market. Grocery stores and smaller retail stores have been doing that for years. Only difference is that they do not hvae the accountability that a store like kohl’s or marshalls because they have to keep the original tag. If you remember the general pricing of items, watch when they go on sale, most of the time they will be at least a 5% listed markup from the “original” price and then the slashed it “20%” in reality it was only about 15% or less. What is the suprise I was reading. You have been paying like this for years. Also “Mr” critize the writer, do not get upset when someone decides to air out some dirty laundry about shady industry, almost as bad as the food industry. good luck with this PR nightmare Kohls… decent store with ok prices.

  10. Warren says:

    Instead of Kohls may CBS2 should look into the PRICE gouging of GAS. Now that is a story…

    1. O_O says:

      Price gouging of gas? Do you not pay attention to all the gas station’s prices and notice that they have something in common- the price? They’re all within cents of each other, so how can that be gouging? If you’re talking about the cost of gas these days then that’s something altogether different. Gas stations charge per gallon based off what THEY had to pay per gallon, and what they had to pay per gallon is based off what the GOVERNMENT had to pay per barrel. Gas has nothing to do with this story.

  11. Astonished says:

    “…From time-to-time, product prices are increased due to production and raw material cost increases. When these types of price increases are implemented, our stores are instructed to re-ticket all items currently in our inventory…”

    That sounds deceptive right there. If the item has already been purchased by the chain and placed on the floor, why would you reprice them just because a second shipment, purchased later was priced differently. And I don’t believe for a minute that any store that purchases the same item to restock their shelves at a lower price goes out and lowers the price on the items already on the sales floor!

    1. A says:

      Because they can’t sell identical pairs of pants for $40 and another for $45. The price has to be even for all of them, they don’t get to pick what the manufactuerer says. I worked at a Kohl’s do you know how much man power would be needed to change the ticket on every single item for every single sale? We had different sales every few days. We NEVER had enough associates we were always understaffed “because of payroll”.

  12. deepthunk says:

    Any fool can see that the city of Los Angeles is absolutely sick with corruption to its very core, Mayor Villaraigosa and his minions on the city council have allowed children to fall into the hands of pedophiles and proven time and again that the way of their city government is the way of corruption. The simple fact is when there are problems with corruption in government you need only look at the officials elected to run it to find the source.
    How long will the people of Los Angeles put up with this gross mismanagement, gross misconduct, and disgustingly gross incompetence on the part of the mayor and city council? The list of their personal and professional failures, misdeeds, and suspicious activities goes on for miles, and yet still they sit in office where they can run the city into the ground. It simply astounds me.

  13. M says:

    Once the prices are marked up, they stay that way. It’s not done temporarily “just for a sale” to make you think you’re getting a better deal. The Unionbay jeans for example, are sent to the store with that price on it from the manufacturer, Kohl’s tickets don’t look like that.

    Levi’s are considered a high theft item so the company has to make up for it somehow. Blame the shoplifters.

  14. Michelle Brown says:

    I’ve worked in retail for years at several different stores. Price mark-ups like that are not only common, the decision to increase the price comes from the MANUFACTURER – not from the stores. You can tell from the tags in the video that those stickers with the price changes are made to be permanent. They’re not a temporary “oh this is going on sale, so let’s put this price” type of thing. When a manufacturer decides to increase the original price of their product the new items are shipped with the marked up price and any inventory still out in the stores has to be retagged with the new price. If the reporter had bothered to actually do a little research into the subject instead of talking to random sales floor associates who have nothing to do with price changes then they probably would have realized it wasn’t some big conspiracy.

  15. Joanna marie says:

    You people defending kohls are so blind i used to work there and the costumer is doing nothing wrong u mean to tell me when kohls tells us to mark up all everyday items and then for them to put a false sale on is the costumers fault? you are so irreverent in your statements unlike you i used to work there for example the male graphic t shirts they say there either 2 for 20 or for an individual one its 11.99 to 12 bucks and what they do is put a so called SALE for 10 bucks each shirt then when the shirt goes on clearance they put it as 8.00 from 20.00 but when it was originally 10 to begin with is that really 70% clearance i think not, i think everyone who is aware of this now cause you will get ripped off there guarantee if you dont believe go see it yourself walk into a kohls peel back the stickers on the bras or dockers pants and the intimates and tell me that the msrp is is not lower than the marked ticket price they told us to do this to increase prices and they said it was from stolen merchandise but they lied to the employees and all the sales 30% coupons you kind of think of it no matter what coupon you pay with your still overpaying. The truth has been set

  16. Toluca Lake Observer says:

    What is it about you and your kind which makes you turn any story about anything into a screed about an entirely different topic. Go bloviate in the middle of a forest. Nobody will be listening because nobody cares about your seething anger.

  17. jackie says:

    Kohls is shady and cheap like any other retailer, the difference is that they are not smart enough to be smooth about their deception. they are also understaffed which is why things are done so sloppily, and workers are treated pretty lousy as i know because i work there. any way they can save or make a penny including but not limited to CONSTANT markups or overloading a worker with tasks that should be divided between at least two people. ever wonder why theres ALWAYS a line? cant find a sales person? or why the person ringing you up looks so miserable? horrible environment, evil company.

    1. Frank says:

      Garbage products. Very rarely do I see a good value there. The shoes are about the only thing worth shopping there for. Everything else sucks. Grifter central.

  18. Goo Gone is your best friend! says:

    We need a story on Goodwill.

    They have gone bonkers with OVER PRICING junk recently. Way too expensive.

    For example the mens clothing area, sports jackets for example, should sell for about what, 9.99, but they add a little disclaimer that says unless marked otherwise or something.

    Then they pick and choose clothing and add special tags and NOTHING is 9.99 and most of those clothes are overpriced.

    Wasn’t like that just about a year or two ago. They’ve gone GREEDY with all that junk.

Leave a Reply