Consumer Question: 10 Items for $10

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Last updated on July 22, 2019 Comments: 15

Here’s one of the reasons I don’t enjoy shopping for groceries. Items are priced in such a way it can be difficult to compare. Without keeping a price diary, it can be difficult to tell when a sale price is good. It’s a lot of work to shop right. Personally, I no longer sweat the small stuff. But if I were in a situation where my total expenses approached my total income, I would be looking carefully at every penny, particularly in the supermarket.

Even if you compare per-unit prices, grocery retailers have many methods of making you think you’re getting a good deal when you may not be. One of the more frustrating sales is the “ten items for $10” deal. It doesn’t necessarily have to be ten items, nor does it have to be $10. You might see “three items for $5” or “five items for $2.” These sales often inspire a question, like this one from a Consumerism Commentary reader:

In my local supermarket chain, I saw a sale price for items I wanted, advertising ten items for $10. In other words, $1 per item. I bought five, expecting to be charged a buck for each item, but they rang up at more than $2 each. I’m thinking this is false or misleading advertising, which should not be allowed by law. Am I right?

In the Super Stop & Shop where I do almost all of my shopping, a block from my apartment, they have similar sales often. In my experience, if an item is advertised as ten for $10, I can buy fewer than ten and they will charge the sale price of $1 each. In fact, many times, this isn’t a sale and the items have a regular price of $1 each.

There are exceptions, but when there are, the fine print on the price tag indicates that I will be charged the regular price if I don’t purchase enough to qualify for the sale.

There are several possibilities:

  • The cashier rang up the items incorrectly.
  • You missed the fine print on the price tag on the shelf.
  • The store does not have a consumer-friendly sale policy.

It does not qualify as false or misleading advertising if you buy fewer than the number of items listed in the sale. If anything, it is just confusing, especially if a store is inconsistent. Sales like these are very effective at getting people to buy more than they would have without the special sale messages.

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Article comments

Anonymous says:

Always read the fine print – and beware 10 for $10 isn’t always a better buy – don’t assume a sale is a sale

Anonymous says:

I’ve been caught a few times assuming I didn’t have to buy the whole 10 items to get the sale price. Definitely have to read the fine print.

Anonymous says:

Albertsons (western regional) has an interesting gimmick on this:

Some of their weekly specials will have in addition to good unit deals, an additional savings for quantity purchase.

For example, I recently found a $4.29 item ol sale at $2.49, with a bonus $5 off if you buy 10, working out to $1.99 each for 10. This is a nonperishable food item normally out of my desired price range, and the $1.99 unit price was a much better deal than I have ever seen anywhere else.

Naturally, I made two trips (had to, they didn’t have enough on hand for a single purchase) and bought 20.

Anonymous says:

At Publix in Florida, they will ring up the items for $1 on a promotional price of 10 for $10. Their registers also allow 2 coupons on a buy one get one free because they both ring up as purchased, then they subtract the second item. Before they changed this, one item rang up at normal price, and the next one rang up as $0.00 so only one coupon was allowed.

Kind of on another note, I tried to purchase a dish detergent at CVS on sale for $.96 and I had a $.50 coupon. The coupon beeped, and it would only give a credit of $.16! I asked the cashier to override the beep (another CVS had done it the day before) and she refused. She said (so funny) “Well, it’s on sale so it’s only going to give a certain amount off.” Really? There is nothing in the ad or the coupon that says “here’s a $.50 coupon – but hey, you can’t use it if our product is on sale”!

So, they would have given me $.16 value for my coupon, submitted the coupon to P&G and be reimbursed $.50. Nice scam. I noticed that Target’s computers were doing the same thing this past summer and tons of people had to call them on it.

Anonymous says:

Grocery shopping can be such a budget breaker. The design and layout of the grocery store does not benefit the customer. The ‘accidental’ cashier ring-ups and the decrease in units-per-price all work against the customer. Very nice post. Thank you. =)

Anonymous says:

Our Stater Bros. uses this tactic. And yes, the fine print in 8 pt font is listed down at the bottom that states you need to buy 10 of the specific items to recieve it for $10. And a lot of times it is a good deal, BUT then you need to watch for the size of packages. Many people grab the wrong size box. I know from experience.

It is a time consuming process and will only partake if I find there are items I frequently use.

Anonymous says:

Most stores will have this information in the circular if there’s a minimum number of items required for purchase or a cashier should be able to answer the question.

I don’t think the stores ‘owe’ us deals as consumers, so if we have to do a bit of legwork in order to get them, I don’t find that unreasonable at all.

Anonymous says:

I live in the Pacific Northwest and I have seen it both ways. At Fred Meyer they will let you buy one for $1.00, but at Walgreens you need to purchase the stated amount to become entitied to the discounted price. In each case though, it was clearly marked as so.

Anonymous says:

Flexo, thanks for running my question, and thanks to those who commented.
In this case, the ad did not state a minimum number to get the $1 price, and did not show what the price would be on odd lot purchases of the item. More importantly, the little orange UPC tag on the shelf noted the sale price as $1 per item I called the store headquarters, and they said that the item should have rang up at the advertised price, and attributed the error to a software glitch. I have the receipt and the flyer, so I’ll be able to get a refund on the overpayment. But, as Flexo noted, this is a real pain in the patooty to have to check every item as its rung up to make sure I’m actually getting the price as advertised. We are all human, people makes mistakes, and things like this will happen so I guess if I’m going to take the time to shop the flyer sales in the first place, I’ll need to be diligent about double checking the actual item price that is charged at the checkout counter..

Anonymous says:

The problem is the way the person read this: “I saw a sale price for items I wanted, advertising ten items for $10. In other words, $1 per item.” That logic is incorrect. Encouraging a customer to buy in bulk in order to save money is nothing new. If the items were truly $1.00 each, the price probably would have said so (more on this below). Instead, the price said 10 for $10, implying that you HAVE to buy ten to get the full sale. As a person who spent years working in a grocery store, I saw this strategy employed all the time.

However, I can tell you that sometimes the amount is merely “suggestive”. Sometimes you CAN buy one of a “2 for $4.00” sale for only $2.00 because the company isn’t fully willing to force sale of an item in pairs. And yes, it is somewhat of a marketing trick…simply put, you’ll sell more products by advertising at as “2 for $4.00” instead of “$2.00 each”. In many cases, it’s important to look for the qualifying phrase “you must buy x” which should tell you whether or not you have to buy all necessary items in order to enjoy the sales price.

Anonymous says:

Most stores will sell the items for $1 each. If I find a store that doesn’t I will try to avoid it in the future. I also tend to avoid buy one get one free sales because those typically do require the purchase of a certain number of items, and more often than not the price is jacked up so high that the final per item price is almost the same as the normal price.

Anonymous says:

My Price Chopper store doubles the price of meat per pound, then advertizes a BOGO sale. Buyer beware.

Anonymous says:

At the various places where I shop (Stop & Shop, ShopRite, Wegmans), they will sell those items for $1 most of the time. However, I have seen these group sales where they will state in the fine print that you must buy the quantity indicated.

Anonymous says:

The Shaw’s (local to New England) works the same way as Stop and Shop, but only if you have their rewards card, otherwise you only qualify for the sale if you buy the specified number of items.

Anonymous says:

You are correct – at Stop and Shop you can buy whatever amount and you pay $1 for each. Sometimes on soda and frozen dinners there is an exception to this rule and you must buy 4 of an item to get the sale price.

However, there is an asian supermarket near me were you must buy the number quoted in the sales price. Sometimes it will be 2 for $2.29 and if you only purchase one the price is $1.99. This is lousy as the sale items are often perisable and I do not want 2 of the sale item.