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Consumer Alert

Varying price policies show wisdom of shopping around

Q. Does Kohl’s use fictitious prices in order to give discounts? I recently purchased a coffee maker at the Walpole store for $39.99 on sale for $34.99, using a 15 percent off coupon. I later found what appeared to be the same coffee maker online with a list price $10 less than I paid with the discount — and selling for $19.99. I’ve tried to get an explanation from Kohl’s, but they don’t respond.

— DAVID RISEMAN, EAST WALPOLE

A. What happened here is good illustration of why shopping around before you buy — even if that involves just poking around online for a few minutes — can be beneficial.

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There is a subtle distinction as to why Kohl’s coffee maker has a higher list price than similar models. The machines sold elsewhere look identical, but are sold with different model numbers. I asked Kohl’s about their price and why they wouldn’t answer you.

They ended up forwarding me a note they say they sent. In it, a Kohl’s customer service representative explained:

“I contacted our buying personnel to investigate the pricing of the Mr. Coffee 5-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker you inquired about. They advised that this model is exclusive to Kohl’s with features that distinguish it from other Mr. Coffee Coffee Makers in the market place.

“Kohl’s Mr. Coffee 5-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker includes a Gold Tone Filter, which is a factor that impacts price for this product. Of course, any pricing that may be available elsewhere in the market will be among the factors taken into consideration by Kohl’s buying staff.”

Kohl’s offered to help you return the coffee maker. Given how frustrating this experience has been, returning it would seem like a reasonable solution.

This situation demonstrates how retailers can create distinctions only the most astute consumers would notice. But shopping around may have left that higher-price coffee maker on a Kohl’s shelf. What really throws salt in this wound is Kohl’s was advertising the same coffee maker this week for $29.99.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and ­also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at ConsumerNews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.
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