Deal or No Deal? 3 Common Shopping Traps to Avoid

shopping traps to avoid
Damian Dovarganes/AP
Consumers have to be on their toes. All the time.

We all want shopping deals, and retailers are quite tuned into what makes us want to buy. The key is sorting out what's really a deal and what is really a "deal."

Is shopping at an outlet store always a bargain? No. In fact, it's rather common for outlets to stock stuff that never even went to the company's regular stores. Savvy shoppers know when they're finding a real deal. The rest of us need to watch out for when we're being tricked.

Consumer Reports' ShopSmart magazine in its September issue reveals what it found after sending an expert around to identity some of the "latest bum deals." Here are three:

Mattress Sales

Retailers often have to deal with minimum prices set by the manufacturers. So, one way they make their sales seem better than they are is by creating an inflated "regular" price.

ShopSmart's advice: "Never take the promise of huge savings at face value. Always comparison-shop. Also, always try to negotiate."

Penny Auctions

On such sites as DealDash and QuiBids, consumers are enticed by what appear to be super-cheap deals. But, ShopSmart warns that while "penny auction" sites can be alluring, there are hidden charges. Unlike on eBay (EBAY) and other traditional auction sites, these sites charge for bidding in advance. If you don't win the bid, you lose.

ShopSmart's advice: "Think of these sites strictly as entertainment -– like gambling –- not smart shopping. Or just skip them."

Sneaky Discounts

Most of the time, when a consumers comes across a deal that is advertised as "buy two for $5," it is safe to assume that buying one will cost $2.50. But that assumption could cost you. Sometimes the deals are contingent on buying more than one item. That has to be disclosed, but isn't always that obvious.

ShopSmart's advice: "Look for any fine print on the sale sign, and watch the cash register."

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