What do Home Depot prices mean? How to decode them

Retailers can and do use prices to manipulate you. But rumors of hidden codes in prices also abound. Home Depot is no exception to that. So what do Home Depot prices mean? Here’s how to find the hidden meaning in prices so you know when you might have found a bargain, and how long that bargain might last.

There are rumors that you can tell how long an item will be on sale from the numbers in the price, but those numbers don’t match what I found at my local store. Still, there are tricks for finding closeouts and other sale items.

Why Home Depot prices frequently end in numbers like 97

what do Home Depot prices mean
What do Home Depot prices mean? Well, neither of these closeouts end in 6 or 3 like you might read on other sites. Note the tag on the top doesn’t have a date on it either.

My son lectured me on retail pricing once, when he was in the third or fourth grade. “People end prices in 97, 98 or 99 cents to trick you. People ignore the change, so it’s a way to get almost a whole extra dollar from you,” he said.

I’m not sure where he learned that from but he’s right. We have a tendency to round prices off when we’re buying, and it’s not hard to trick us into rounding down when we should round up. In the most extreme case, some huckster once tried to pitch me something priced at three payments of $39.99, and he even said, “That’s only what, 90 dollars total?”

Retailers usually won’t be that overtly dishonest, but that’s the reason you see lots of 9s in prices. $39.99 looks closer to $30 than to $40, so that’s why you see those kinds of prices so often.

It also means when a price has fewer 9s than usual, it’s worth paying attention to.

And if you see prices ending in 97 or 99 on an endcap, it just means they’re trying to move that inventory. It’s not a better deal though. Buy it if you need it, but don’t let them trick you into buying it just because it looks like it’s on sale.

So why do people say Home Depot’s prices mean something?

It’s possible that Home Depot does sometimes use a hidden code in its prices, or the rumors could be clickbait. It’s to Home Depot’s advantage to change its codes from time to time though. Their return policy is rather generous, so they don’t want people buying items on sale, holding onto them for a few months, and then returning them at full price.

Which Home Depot prices mean special buy

Rumor is, when a price ends in 88, it means they got a price break from their supplier and the item is on sale. It’s a temporary price reduction. Unlike some price reductions, the item isn’t going away, and it might be on sale for a while. But if it’s something you need, it’s worth buying, because it’s a better price than usual.

Back in 2015, Home Depot put a specific LED light bulb on sale for $1.88 or thereabouts. That price isn’t anything special now, but it was a very good price then.

That said, I think they mix this number up sometimes. When I was in the store in mid-2021, I observed special buys ending in almost any number other than 90-something. But I also observed a fair number of prices ending in 46 cents, with no fanfare.

So if you see prices ending in random numbers, it may be some kind of unadvertised special. If it’s something I use quite a bit, I might pick up an extra. Or not.

Generally speaking, Home Depot isn’t shy about putting special buy signs on next to their items that are on sale. It’s part of the store’s draw.

Yellow tags mean closeouts

If you’re looking for bargains, look for yellow tags. This is merchandise that’s on its way out, and there are hidden messages in those yellow-tag prices.

There’s a rumor that you can tell from the price when it’s going to be marked down again, when it’s going to reach its lowest price ever, and when you’ll be able to buy it for a penny if you time it just right. Based on what I saw at my local store, I don’t think any of that seems to be true. Here’s why.

I observed yellow tags ending in all kinds of numbers other than three or six. Some of the tags had dates on them. Some tags had no dates. And the idea that the item will disappear from shelves 9 weeks after getting the yellow tag also seems to not be true, based on me finding tags dated 2/11/2021 on May 22. That’s more than 14 weeks later.

I also saw some tags with no date on them. Maybe those are items on final closeout, whose price won’t go any lower.

Where to find the closeouts

Sometimes closeouts are mixed in with the rest of the merchandise, especially if they still have ample stock. So when you’re shopping for ordinary stuff like cleaning supplies or light bulbs, keep an eye out for yellow tags. You may find a bargain. The original price often is printed on the tag, so you can see how much it’s been marked down.

When there isn’t a lot of stock left, closeouts tend to migrate to the lonelier parts of the store. At my local store, there are two endcaps in the lighting section that have closeouts. One is facing the front of the store, and it tends to have electrical-related closeouts. The bigger one is facing the back of the store. It’s a disheveled encap in the far corner of the store, easy to overlook, with a more random assortment. There’s another endcap closer to the middle of the store, near the lumber section, where closeout tools are more likely to end up.

While cull lumber is my favorite trick for saving money at Home Depot, knowing the messages in their prices is another good way to land good deals.

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