A collection of “nice to know” tips from former employees in all corners of retail. How stores price, which generics are manufactured at the same place as brand name products, and more.
There is no substitute for experience, and today’s post is about leveraging the experience of experts in the retail industry: their former employees. I spent a delightful Sunday scouring the internet for interesting tidbits, talking to readers, and reading these two Reddit threads on the subject.
To be clear, I can’t speak to the veracity of these tips or how generalized they are to different retailers’ locations, but they certainly make for interesting food for thought.
Here are my favorites.
Former Employees’ Secrets
- Brick-And-Mortar Prices are Higher Than Online Prices (Target, etc.): Many major retail stores charge more if you purchase at their brick-and-mortar stores than they do online for the same product. This is because online they have to compete with aggressive competitors like Amazon, and generally they use algorithms to match the lowest price their competitor offers. They don’t have to do this in stores. If you live in an expensive, dense area, check the price of products online while you’re in the store before buying. At Target, the prices can be up to 10% different, which is generally 50 cents to three dollars on every single item.
- Proceed With Caution at Whole Foods’ Butcher Counter: One former employee says at his Whole Foods location, a manager supposedly insisted they use meat that was past its expiration date to grind burgers and sausages. Sometimes this meat is more than two weeks past due. A second friend of a former employee says to avoid the marinated items because they are almost always using meat past its expiration date and covering it up with spices.
- Sam’s Club Produce Expiration Dates Are Stretched: I will let this one speak for itself: “Sam’s Club. We would routinely take apart the packages of berries, throw out the rotten ones and then refill them. There was definitely no weighing to make sure the amount on the package reflected what was inside.”
- See Through Fake Online Reviews: There is a huge industry of marketing employees hired to post fake four and five star reviews to drown out the legitimate criticisms of their clients’ products. Check the poster’s history to ascertain whether almost all their reviews are positive (suspicious). Another general giveaway is if a company’s review distribution looks like a barbell (lots of five stars and lots of one stars) vs a gradual scale up or down.
- Beware Expensive Car Detailing Packages: “I worked at a car dealership. The $1200 car care system that we would discount to $900 was “applied” with about 15 squirts of a spray bottle. Many times I’d hang out with the detail guys so the customer wouldn’t get suspicious at a quick turnaround.”
- Avoid Memory Foam Cluster Pillows: While some high quality foam pillows are produced, the “memory foam cluster” pillows are often made with nasty old chunks of foam from mattresses and pillows, still dirty when put into the production equipment and ground up.
- The Red Cross Sells Your Plasma To Cosmetic Companies: One person shares that the Red Cross sells your plasma to cosmetic companies. I obviously can’t confirm this, but investigating it led me to this equally interesting Slate article.
- Bed Bath And Beyond’s Return Policy Is Insane: You can return anything to Bed, Bath, and Beyond as long as it is in their inventory system. As a former employee put it, “A woman once returned a 75% burned Yankee Candle because the wick dipped into the wax and she couldn’t fish it out. She got a 100% refund.”
- Retail Jewelry Stores Use Pre-Authorized Price Ranges: Almost all items on sale in jewelry stores have a pre-authorized minimum price at which employees are cleared to sell the item. If you are purchasing, go in and act like you know about the system by asking “What is the min on this item?”
- Ralph Lauren Outlet Is Not The Same As Ralph Lauren: This is true of many major luxury brands. The clothing lines offered in Ralph Lauren’s Outlet stores are not the same as the Ralph Lauren’s regular lines. They contract cheaper and lower quality separate lines to sell in their outlet stores.
- Skin Care Markups Are Insane: While we are all used to 2x or 3x markups, skin care products generally cost less than $2 to manufacture but retail for anywhere from $50-$250+.
- Same For Perfume: A former employee shares that the spraying bottle often costs more to purchase than the perfume inside.
- You Can Almost Always Return Your Automotive Parts: If you are having trouble getting an auto shop to return a part, ask to speak to the district manager. This almost always guarantee they will process your return.
- Nail Polish Is Repackaged From Squeeze Bottles From The Same One Source: Most nail polish companies buy their nail polish in bulk from the same guy in New Jersey. One former nail polish company employee says they would fill small bottles with polish that came out of giant squeeze bottles, slap their own label on it, and call it a specialized product. The bottles cost under $2 to produce and can retail for $15-$18+.
Same Product, Cheaper Prices
Below are just a few highlights of products made in the same plant with the same ingredients, but for cheaper prices than their brand name counterparts.
- Toothpaste: Ultrabrite toothpaste is Colgate toothpaste in a different (and much cheaper) box
- Trader Joe’s: Trader Joe’s white label items are all big brands. Their inexpensive mac and cheese is Annie’s. Their chocolate chip cookies are Tate’s. Their canned tomatoes are Muir Glen. Their tea is Celestial Seasonings. Their Belgian beer is Unibroue.
- Walmart: Walmart bread is Wonder bread. Their sugar is Domino sugar.
- Cream Cheese: Cream cheese factories don’t switch cheeses for different brand clients. “We make Hahns, Breugers, Trader Joe’s, James Farm, Green Mountain Farms, Lombardi’s, and a bunch of specialties. If it’s the same flavor, it’s the same cheese, I’m sure it’s the same in many other food industries as well.”
- Costco: Costco’s ice cream (Kirkland) comes from Haagen-Daaz plants, but they use higher quality ingredients than Haagen-Daaz. Costco’s Kirkland vodka is Grey Goose – it has a Grey Goose factory address on the label.
- Watches: Fossil makes watches for many luxury brands like Kate Spade, Armani Exchange, Burberry, and Adidas.
Any tips you’ve discovered on your own or which you can share from your own industry?