Common Retail Myths Exposed

We’d all like to think we know about most of the rules regarding our rights as consumers. If you’re old enough to know the name Ralph Nader (from before his political career), you can probably remember that he was very involved in protecting consumer rights and getting laws passed and policies changed that made shopping more consumer-friendly. The author of the book, Unsafe at Any Speed, he was particularly active with automobile safety and was largely responsible for the seat belt requirements in autos and their importance to safety protection regulations.

In a way, “Nader-isms” (if I can coin a word) have been responsible for a lot of things we do and think we know as consumers in all aspects of our shopping. I’ve spent 40+ years in retail stores and retail management, so I can tell you with authority that stores are now better than ever at attempting to satisfy and protect consumers. After all, happy customers are good for the bottom line.

Common Retail Myths Exposed

But there are still myths out there that make us wary and distrustful. In a few cases, they may be justified. But you should know the myths from the reality. Here are some common retail myths that you should know about when you go shopping:

1. Myth: Store return policies must be posted at the register.

While you must be informed about the return policies, they don’t have to be posted at the checkout. They may be on the receipt itself, which a majority of stores do, or they can be posted in the customer service area or even at the store entrances and exits. In any event, if you’re unsure or don’t see the policy, ask outright before you buy something to protect yourself.

2. Myth: Bathing suits and undergarments are not returnable.

Unless the item is marked final sale, all items are returnable even if the package has been opened and/or they have been worn. Even if the item is used, it can be returned but not resold. That problem is on the store and not the consumer as long as you follow the return policy requirements for receipts and time frame. Otherwise, you may have to contact the manufacturer for any warranty follow-up.

3. Myth: Percent off sales are always a great buy.

When something is advertised at a huge percentage off, keep in mind that the regular or original price is a number that the retailer literally “makes up”. Long ago, the manufacturer suggested retail prices were abandoned and stores became free to establish items for sale at any price they choose. Thus, a percentage off price doesn’t necessarily indicate an item’s true or intrinsic value. For example, I once had a customer ask me why a TV which we were selling wasn’t the same or better than a competitor’s percentage off sale. It just so happens that our price was a better one, but our savings percentage off wasn’t as high. It doesn’t matter if theirs is 50% off and our identical item is 40% off. What matters is the price itself, as obvious as that may seem.

4. Myth: Why didn’t the salesperson tell me it was going on sale? They’re trying to rip me off!

While there’s nothing wrong in asking if something you’re interested in is going to be on sale, quite often salespeople simply don’t know. The store management doesn’t always inform salespeople ahead of sales events because a) the manager may not know until just before the sale, or b) they want to make sure they don’t sell out their inventory before the ads break. By law, they must have an ample supply of all advertised items and once it’s advertised on sale it will, of course, sell much faster than before. It’s a catch-22 for sure, but it’s not done to “rip consumers off”. In many cases, if you purchase something and then it goes on sale (within a certain period of time), you can get a price adjustment from reliable retailers.

5. Myth: Electronic items that are refurbished are inferior, so don’t buy one.

While a floor sample, returned or repaired item may be scratched or dented, may not have its original carton, or have a rip in the box, one thing you can be sure of is that it’s in as good or even better working condition than when it was new. All of those type of items are tested thoroughly, in fact, more rigorously than at the factory. They all possess full manufacturers’ warranties and are usually available at a dramatic price reduction, so it’s certainly worth buying if it’s what you want and need.

6. Myth: Black Friday is always the best time to buy.

Not necessarily true. It really depends on what it is you’re buying. The period of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the most profitable for retailers. Logic will tell you because the demand is so large that prices won’t be at their lowest. The best time to buy may be just before Christmas if inventory is still high, or just after the holiday when they must clear out merchandise to make room for the new things on order. Electronics, for example, are typically best to buy in January and February when the newer versions are available from the manufacturer. A smart shopper checks out the recommendations of when it’s best to buy by category!

7. Myth: Organic foods are more nutritious.

Not necessarily. The one things you do know is that pesticide usage isn’t there. But nutrition has little to nothing to do with being organic. Any veggie or fruit with a skin (such as bananas) may not absorb the pesticides anyway so there’s no reason to believe it affects nutrition. Just make sure you wash all fruit and veggies regardless of whether they’re organic or not.

8. Myth: Low fat means it is healthier.

Low fat means it has lower fat content. Whether it is actually healthier or not remains to be determined by checking its nutritional information to see its sodium and sugar content, for example. Don’t be misled by the “low fat” label, as many low fat products have added salt and sugar to make up the taste.

9. Myth: Buying in bulk will always save you money.

When buying in bulk, it can sometimes be a real savings. But if you buy anything that’s perishable, and you don’t use it up in time, you may wind up throwing it away and thus actually lose money on your bulk purchases compared to a smaller portion. Sometimes these items can be frozen, but you’ll need to have the space to accommodate them in your freezer. If you’re looking at staples and pantry items, always check the unit price to be sure the bulk size is actually a good deal. Steer clear from bulk meats and produce or anything that uses a freshness date that may not be within reason for you and your family.

10. Myth: Computers, laptops, and notebooks have their accurate storage capacities on the box and in advertisements.

When you buy any of these electronics, keep in mind that if there is pre-loaded software involved, it will reduce the storage capacity on your item. A 320 GB laptop hard drive preloaded with a ton of bloatware might actually only have 200 GB remaining for your use. While getting the software may be a plus, losing the space may mean you’ll have to expand your storage sooner rather than later.

Hopefully, you realize that retailers generally are honest and trying to gain your business and loyalty, leaving you little reason to be distrustful. That being said, it’s still a good idea to make sure you ask questions and know the policies before you buy!

What shopping myths did you used to believe before you learned differently?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at (with changes)



    1. Having managed stores that sold bathing suits for years, I can tell you that the employees don’t always get the message, and are very protective of the store. But truth be told, when the suits are returned, the stores simply return them to the manufacturer for credit, so they don’t lose any money and everyone is happy.

  1. Tre

    I always thought I couldn’t return an item without the receipt, but that isn’t true. If you don’t have a receipt the store can sometimes locate it with your credit card. If you paid cash they will often refund for the current price (which may be lower than what you paid).

    1. Thanks for bringing up that point. I failed to mention it in my article about what happens when you don’t have a receipt. With the information access that stores have today, many if not most can do exactly as you described. The only drawback is without a receipt, you may receive the lowest price as you mentioned.

  2. A lot of stuff I didn’t know like about the swim suits! Organic can contain pesticides, too. Just the right kind distributed in the right manner. And a lot of times full fat can be healthier because it doesn’t have that same sugar content! All things relative, of course.

  3. Heather @ Simply Save

    Great list! Buying in bulk is only a good deal if the stuff doesn’t go to waste. I live alone, so memberships like stores to Costco and Sam’s Club don’t have a lot of benefit for me. I can’t use the stuff up fast enough and I’m able to find good deals elsewhere anyway.

  4. Few weeks ago, I bought an underwear here in the UK, which I tried returning the following day unopened becuase I had changed my mind on the colour. The retailer completely refused to refund my money as it was their policy not to refund such purchases. I was highly gutted. Haven’t read this article, I really wished I had challenged the sales person that fateful day.

    1. While my article was based on consumer rights in the USA, I can’t imagine that an unopened, unused package wouldn’t be returnable unless it were posted as a final sale. So sorry that happened to you. Particularly if the package is still unopened, you may want to write a letter to company management stating your case.

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