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Winners is exposed for exaggerating its discounts to Canadian shoppers

Think that $30 dollar pair of jeans at Winners is a great deal? Think again. They might just be cheap. A new investigation found that Winners has been duping customers with claims that it sells “designer fashions at prices generally 20%-60% below department and specialty store regular prices.” In fact, a lot of times the clothes weren’t marked down at all.

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Whether or not you like to admit it, most of us have spent a Saturday afternoon at Winners, pushing a cart through the racks while lulled into a shopping coma by Top 40 pop songs, grabbing everything from muffin tins to budget-friendly designer dresses. And you probably trusted Winners when it told you its stores were full of great, great deals on designer clothes, sold at a fraction of the price.

But shopper Jennifer Johnston got a rude awakening at a recent shopping trip to Winners. She tells CBC Marketplace that she went to an Ontario Winners and was excited to find a pair of pants on sale for $29.99 — a tag labelled them with a “compare at” price of $80. But Winners had neglected to remove the original tag from the manufacturer, suggesting retailers sell the jeans at $29.99. The jeans weren’t discounted at all.

“It was out-and-out false advertising,” Johnston tells CBC Marketplace. “That experience made me very indignant, very angry, very frustrated and totally betrayed.”

CBC Marketplace investigated, buying several items from Winners, ranging from perfume to toys, clothing and toiletries. They found that in many cases the “compare at” prices were inflated to make the customers think they were getting a deal. For instance, a pair of shoes by Nine West being sold at $69.99 were labelled with a “compare at” price of $130 — this makes customers think they’re getting a great deal, snagging the shoes for 60 bucks off the normal price. But Marketplace didn’t find the shoes sold anywhere for $130. In fact, Nine West Shoe Studio was selling them for $99. While customers were still getting a discount, it was for half as much as they were being led to believe.

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And Marketplace isn’t the first to notice something’s fishy — Winners’ U.S. parent company, TJX, is currently embroiled in a class action lawsuit for using misleading pricing strategies at its TJ Maxx stores.

The lesson, if any? Never trust “compare at” pricing.

“‘Compare at’ pricing is one of those tricks that works on the way our brains are structured,” says Mark Ellwood to CBC, the author of Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World.

“When we see two numbers, we instantly look at the higher one and take notice of it. It’s called anchor pricing. We see 100, and the minute we see a 100 and then 20, we see the difference.”

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