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Two California residents are suing TJX Companies Inc. for allegedly using deceptive and illegal comparative pricing on merchandise in its T.J. Maxx stores.

Riverside County resident Staci Chester and Los Angeles County resident Daniel Friedman sued over T. J. Maxx’s use of the phrase “compare at” on the price tags of many name brand items. The pair said the retailer is using estimates of comparative items that mislead customers about discounts and not actual prices of the same product at another retailer or to a earlier price at T.J. Maxx, which they say is against California law.

T.J. Maxx, the suit claims, uses “deceptive comparative prices to trick its customers into mistakenly believing they are saving specific and substantial amounts on name brand items.”

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The suit was filed in federal court in Riverside, Calif., earlier in July. The two plaintiffs realized they had misinterpreted the phrase after looking at the company’s website.

T.J. Maxx spokesperson Colleen Beauregard said the Framingham-based company discloses its comparative pricing methods on signs in the stores and on its website. The disclosure states that the “ ‘compare at’ price is our buying staff’s estimate of the regular, retail price” of a comparable item from a competitor. “We encourage you to do your own comparison shopping as another way to see what great value we offer.”

In a statement, Beauregard said, “At T.J. Maxx, we are committed to delivering exceptional value to our customers every day — it is the foundation of our business. Transparency is important to us and integrity is ingrained in our culture. Beyond that, we do not comment on pending litigation.”

In Massachusetts, consumer advocate Edgar Dworsky said state retail advertising regulations require companies that make comparable value claims to use actual offerings of items of similar quality at a substantial number of sellers in the trade area. He said the lawsuit will test T.J. Maxx’s method of comparative pricing.

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“I think it’s potentially a very important case and a strong case,” said Dworsky, who is based in Somerville and is the founder of the Internet consumer guide ConsumerWorld.org. “You’ve got to do your homework. You’ve got to have the proof that that is the price that is being offered.”


Karishma Mehrotra can be reached at karishma.mehrotra@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @missmishma.