6 Retailers Where You Should Never Pay Full Price

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Banana Republic store, New York, USA
Back in January, I noticed that Banana Republic was absolutely flooding my inbox with promotional emails.

That, in itself, is not unusual. Email is a low-investment, high-return form of marketing, so if you're on a retailer's mailing list, you're going to get a lot of promotions. But what struck me was that virtually every email was advertising a big sale. Sure, you had the occasional "check out our spring collection" email, but the vast majority were offering in-store and online sales that discounted all or most items. And these were big discounts: For a good two-week period, the chain offered a 30 percent or 40 percent off sale every single day.

The flood of deals has slowed a bit since then, but I'm still seeing very frequent emails from the retailer offering similar discounts. So now I have a rule: If I want to buy something at Banana Republic, I will always wait for a sale. After all, a big discount is probably just a few days away, so why would I ever pay full price?

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Banana Republic (GPS) is hardly the only retailer where this is the case. We asked Dealnews to dig through its deal data from the last few months to find out which retailers tend to have sales and big coupons most often. For the purposes of this experiment, we decided to narrow our focus to 'universal' sales and coupons -- those where most or all items in the store are discounted by a fixed amount. Sales which are restricted to one department of the store, or which are vague in how much you're saving ("up to 40 percent") are not included. The idea is that if you've got your eye on a particular item at the store, you have a pretty good chance of seeing it get marked down in the immediate future.

Based on this research, we've determined that the following six retailers (presented in no particular order) have sales frequently enough that you should almost always avoid paying the sticker price there.

6 Retailers Where You Should Never Pay Full Price
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6 Retailers Where You Should Never Pay Full Price

There's a sale at Penney's!

Yes, the deals are back with a vengeance at J.C. Penney (JCP) after the "fair and square pricing" experiment turned into a debacle. In August alone, there were more than 20 sales and coupons. Some of these were specific to product lines, but there were plenty of across-the-board sales, including a 20 percent-off online sale, a $10-off-$25 apparel coupon, and a 25 percent off sale that was good in-stores and online. In fact, more than half the days in August saw some kind of universal sale at the retailer. And even when there wasn't a big sale or coupon, there were also a number of department-specific sales, including a sale offering 40 percent to 50 percent off in the bedding, bath, window and luggage departments.

Express (EXPR) is a big fan of sales of the "$25 off $75, $50 off $150" variety, and which apply to the vast majority of merchandise in stores or online. Over the period we examined, you were never more than a few days away from a sale on all or most of the merchandise sold by Express. There were also sales that took took an extra discount off clearance items.

Bottom line: If Express isn't having a sale, you should probably just check back later that week.
Dealnews confirmed what my inbox already told me: Banana Republic has a lot of sales, and they're usually very good. In July, for instance, it had five sales that all offered between 30 percent and 40 percent off.

Yes, sometime there's a lull of a week or so, but the magnitude of the discounts means it's almost always worth the wait. Sure, if you urgently need a new shirt for a job interview, you might have no choice. But if it's not a clothing emergency, why spend $100 when you can wait a few days and spend $60? 
The Gap is owned by the same company as Banana Republic, and it shares its enthusiasm for sales: Over a two-month period, it had nine sales that applied to all or most regularly priced items, so you're rarely more than a week away from a sale there. Discounts tended to fall in the 30 percent to 40 percent off range.

And what of Old Navy? The third of the Gap brands is also the cheapest, and that's probably why it's less keen on having big sales that take 40 percent off everything in the store. There were a few sales in the 20 to 30 percent-off range, but in general, the sales we saw were of the "up to 40 percent off activewear" variety. You can wait around to see if something you want goes on sale, but otherwise you might as well just take advantage of the already-low prices here.
It's not news that Macy's (M) holds a lot of sales. Take June, for instance: The retailer had five different sales or coupons that offered a discount on most items.

But a couple of caveats are in order. One is that the sales are relatively modest in value -- we found a couple of coupons offering $10 off $25, or 25 percent-off $100 or more, but for the most part, you're looking at sales in the 15 percent off range. The other is that the sales pretty much always carry a ton of restrictions and exclusions, to the point that it will take you a while to read all the fine print.

So yes, it's usually a good idea to wait for a sale at Macy's. But once it arrives, it might not save you much money -- and it might not include the thing you're hoping to buy.
Staples (SPLS) tends to offer a variety of sales and coupons that mark down everything in stores. But a word of warning: They don't happen like clockwork like you see at Express or Banana Republic, and sometimes the well will run dry for a couple weeks.

Take July: The month started off with a coupon offering 20 percent off any one item, which was immediately followed by another coupon offering $5 off $30. But then things quieted down for about a month: There were a few department-specific sales ($30 off any one tablet, for instance) and one sale that was exclusive to rewards members, but no across-the-board sales. Then in mid-August we got another two-week period with good coupons, and now we're once again in a dry period for sales.

So if you're going to Staples for something you don't need right away -- a new laptop, for instance, or a shredder for your office -- you might consider waiting a few weeks to see if a coupon pops up. But if you urgently need some office supplies, don't bother waiting around.
Of the 20 retailers we looked at, these were the six that tend to have frequent sales or coupons that discount everything in the store by a fixed amount.

But plenty of retailers that didn't make the listed still have their share of sales and discounts. Large department and discount store like Walmart (WMT) , Target (TGT) and Sears (SHLD) tend to have low prices across the board and mainly hold their sales on very specific products, product lines or departments; as such, it doesn't make sense to wait around for a big coupon to discount the product you have your eye on. There are also retailers like Aeropostale, which has a lot of sales but tends to use phrases like "up to" and "select items," which makes it hard to know what's on sale and how much an item is discounted.

That's not to say that you aren't getting good deals at these places. But they're tough to predict, so don't spend all month waiting for the coupons of your dreams to show up in your inbox. 

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.
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