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FILE - In this Friday, Nov. 27, 2015, file photo, shoppers carry bags as they cross a pedestrian walkway near Macy's in Herald Square, in New York. Thanksgiving Day shopping it isn't going away and some stores are rethinking their strategies on whether it makes sense to be open. Many major mall operators and big retailers such as Toys R Us, J.C. Penney, and Macy's are sticking with being open. Others, including the Mall of America, are closing for Thanksgiving. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

L.A. is suing 4 big retailers for allegedly duping bargain hunters with deceptive ads

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Los Angeles prosecutors sued four national retailers for allegedly deceiving customers into thinking they scored larger discounts than they really did.

According to the L.A. city attorney's office, separate lawsuits were filed against J.C. Penney, Macy's, Sears and Kohl's.

The suits accuse the department store chains of falsely advertising higher regular prices for merchandise so customers would think they were getting bigger bargains with the "sale" price.

"Customers have the right to be told the truth about the prices they're paying and to know if a bargain is really a bargain," Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a statement.

These tactics are known as false reference pricing, and as the L.A. Times points out, play a big role in a company's marketing and business strategies.

"The kind of pricing tactics described in the lawsuits are endemic to the retail industry today," the L.A. Times reports. This is problematic because consumers become accustomed to looking at sales prices rather than original prices.

And typically retailers will drop the list price to a sale price within weeks of bringing out merchandise.

“There is no regular-priced merchandise, especially in stores like Sears or Kohl’s or T J Maxx. The whole category is all about the sale price," Ron Friedman, a retail expert at Marcum, told the L.A. Times.

The Associated Press notes that California law bans retailers from advertising a higher original price unless the product was sold at that list price within three months of the ad's appearance. 

Prosecutors are seeking up to $2,500 in civil penalties for each violation.

People on Twitter didn't seem surprised by the allegations.

One of the suits accuses J.C. Penney of selling a maternity bathing suit top online for $31.99 in February, down from an "original" price of $46. It was later marked all the way down to $14.99, while still being compared to the $46 price. However, it was never sold at $46. The highest was $31.99, meaning the discount wasn't as deep as J.C. Penney led on.


The lawsuits allege that thousands of "sale" items were advertised at false reference prices.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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