Beware Bait-and-Switch Pricing in Holiday Shopping

I started my holiday shopping today because a lot of stores were advertising "pre-Black Friday sales" and because I hate crowds. (I lived in Manhattan for 15 years and never once went to Times Square on New Year's Eve to watch the ball drop. But then I hate freezing cold almost as much as crowds.) In any case, I caught a retailer in a pricing bait-and-switch that I thought I would pass on to you.


My 13-year-old is a big fan of Delia's. We received the catalog in the mail, so she chose a few things and we headed over to the mall to check sizes. (While this takes the surprise out of holiday gift giving, she'd rather have stuff that fits so she can wear it immediately, and I'd rather not stand in a returns line after the holidays. It's that crowd thing again.) In the catalog and online, the Addison sweater was on sale for $19.50. In the store, it was still the original price, $39.50 — which I didn't catch until the clerk rang up the items.


I showed the clerk the item in the catalog (there were a stack of them near the register). Her reply: "Sometimes the prices are different in the store and online." She didn't offer to match her own price.


I had her immediately refund the sweater, went home, hopped online and bought the exact same item for $20 less — with free shipping. (I searched and found a free shipping code.) Surfing the Web site did make me spend a little more — I picked out a few cute bikinis for my daugher at 80 percent off for a trip we have planned to Mexico in February. I don't mind, they'll be a nice surprise item under the tree.


Lesson here: Surf first, shop the mall later. Compare prices online to those in-store because some retailers apparently think we're not paying attention. Type your favorite retailer's name and the word "coupon" into a search engine as well as Twitter before you leave for the mall to catch last-minute deals and discounts. If you find something you love in-store and have a web-enabled cell phone, jump on the retailer's site and do a quick comparison.


Have you found prices vary for the same retailer when you shop online vs. in store?