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August 19, 2004 03:38 PM

Broken: Prices that end in .99

David Pogue writes a delicious screed today in his newsletter about prices that end in .99.

  I find the practice of "99-centing" to be such
  an insult to the intelligence that in my columns, I refuse to
  acknowledge it. If some electronics product is priced at $99,
  I write that it costs $100... When I see "$299.99," I don't think
  "Hey, not even $300!"; instead, I think: "Profit padding."

full column


The original reason was not to try and mislead people about the prices of things, but to (almost) ensure the till had to be opened to give change, thereby preventing dishonest cashiers from pocketing the payment.

Posted by: kstop at August 19, 2004 04:12 PM

Sorry, but that doesn't make too much sense:

1.) If you add taxes to $300.00 or any nicely rounded price, you will most likely end up with an amount that requires change.

2.) Since these days almost everything above $10 is paid with plastic money anyways, you don't need to open the till anymore (except for people demanding "cash-back").

Posted by: Sven at August 19, 2004 04:36 PM

Right, but kstop said that that was the *original* reason. Most likely it *was* like that back in the day, and then companies decided to carry it on because they thought people would think "Not even $300!" or something like that, so the practice would have continued beyond its original intention.

That's my theory, anyway. *shrugs* I could be wrong.

Posted by: Ciaran at August 19, 2004 05:14 PM

There is apparently a whole science behind prices see Walmart and others giving random figures to claim they're giving you the best price possible, right down to the cent.

Other studies have shown that people react more favourably to certain numbers over others: a "6" is more attractive than a "5", for example. Might be why a McD's hamburger is $1.69...

Posted by: quanta at August 19, 2004 05:31 PM

As a programmer for an retailer I could comment on this.

But with the link to a NY Times article, all I can think of is that NYT is broken.

I miss :(

Posted by: T. Bradley Dean at August 19, 2004 05:38 PM

There was an occasion when I was in a computer store, talking with a salesman, and had mentioned about something selling for $300. The salesman immediately stopped me and informed me that the price was not $300, rather that it was only $299.99! It was quite an important point with him.

Posted by: Gary Edstrom at August 19, 2004 07:34 PM

There have been plenty of very large studies showing that people really do perceive $(n-1).99 as being far less expensive than $n.

Posted by: Daniel Drucker at August 19, 2004 08:50 PM

T. Bradley Dean said "But with the link to a NY Times article, all I can think of is that NYT is broken".

I'll second that!

People keep sending me things with links to NYT. And I am never going to sign up and get an account with them to get a news story. Not now, not 4 years ago (or whenever they started this idiot practice), and certainly not in the future.

Posted by: Chris Law at August 19, 2004 10:46 PM

It's even stupider in New Zealand, where the lowest denomination coin is the 5 cent piece, yet stores still price stuff as $XX.99, and then round up or down to the nearest five cents when you pay for it.

Posted by: Alden Bates at August 20, 2004 01:49 AM

Gasoline prices too. Just go ahead and bump the price up 1/10ยข already and be done with it. I'm sure that we as a society can survive the trauma.

Posted by: Rob at August 20, 2004 03:03 AM

"It's even stupider in New Zealand"

Okay, now THAT is broken.

Do your guy's books ever line up? I'd hate to be an accountant there! If you're going to round up anywhere, why not just do it before hand, and list prices like that?

Posted by: T. Bradley Dean at August 20, 2004 02:18 PM

I'm begining to hate the number 9

Posted by: Nathan Hughes at August 20, 2004 05:56 PM

_@_v - just to be a snot, i logged in to the new york slimes as "alqueda" with the password of "jihad" and to my surprise it's a valid username.

_@_v - they really do have a sleazy web presence don't they? i feel unclean every time i bother to go there.

_@_v - maybe someone ought to do a "this is broken" about news and media organisations with crass and slimey web presences

Posted by: she_snailie_@_v at August 20, 2004 06:12 PM

I bought a condo a while ago. It was listed at $154,995. I said to my wife, "What do you want to do with the extra $5? Rent a video?" The sales person got a good laugh out of it.

Add carpet and tile upgrades, and closing costs, and that's the end of that video rental.

Posted by: Bob Sifniades at August 21, 2004 12:30 AM

I think the cash registers that stores use here automatically do the rounding, so the items are entered in the books at the rounded value. *shrug*

Of course, if you don't pay cash, the store doesn't round.

Posted by: Alden Bates at August 21, 2004 07:51 AM

"i logged in to the new york slimes as "alqueda" with the password of "jihad" and to my surprise it's a valid username."

That is too funny! I logged in too - and here is the email address of the user:

Now, can we add to the Broken list the fact that you don't have to have a verifiable email address, even though they seem to be obsessing about getting your info just to read their "news"?

Posted by: Chris Law at August 21, 2004 08:54 AM

You know what is really broken? Sniveling idiots who can get FREE content from the New York Times, but are in too much a snit that they have to spend 10 seconds to sign up.

I've had a nytimes account for years, I don't get junk mail from them, and they haven't given my info out. I get free acess to their newspaper every day, and get a daily email with the topics that interest me most.

God forbid.

Posted by: Patrick at August 21, 2004 02:52 PM

Anyone notice the advertisement at the end of the article...

"Special Offer: Home Delivery of The Times from $2.90/week."

And yes, I never have a problem giving faceless corporations my email address, birth date, approximant location, and income level. Because I know they are just curious and will NEVER use it for a profit!

Posted by: Eric at August 21, 2004 05:17 PM

I've also never understood the hatred people have for registration-based web sites like the NY Times. It's not like they require you to use your real name or your real email address. Use a throwaway email address like those generated by any of a dozen or so web sites (spamgourmet, mailinator, jetable) and never be bothered again.

Posted by: Daniel Drucker at August 21, 2004 06:28 PM

_@_v - i just hate that media outlets go out of their way to secure THEIR rights and freedoms to the minutae like they're above the law or something and yet can so blithely trample on those of their readers.

_@_v - we're not allowed to know who 'deep throat' is but they're allowed to demand a dossier on us that would make a kgb agent blush...

Posted by: she_snailie_@_v at August 21, 2004 06:58 PM

Make a KGB agent blush? Are you kidding? The new york times asks for age, gender, country, and industry. And nobody's even asking you to enter THOSE correctly - any selection will do.

Posted by: Daniel Drucker at August 21, 2004 09:02 PM

Patrick Wrote: "You know what is really broken? Sniveling idiots..."

Flaming went out of fashion in about 1995. Please, I for one think this should be a polite discussion forum. There are ways to express yourself without resorting to name-calling.

Posted by: Chris Law at August 22, 2004 12:23 PM

Apparently people react favorable to a price ending in "9." A popular series of kids stories, "Little Golden Books" appeared in 1942 and sold for 25 cents. Twenty years later, in 1962, they raised the price to 29 cents and had a surge in book sales as a result.

Posted by: Michael Scott at August 22, 2004 04:47 PM

I'll tell you one thing, raising the price of something as inexpensive as a book and having more people buying it is just sad.

Posted by: lane at August 23, 2004 05:48 PM

I saw a Coin Star machine the other day and it charges 8 and 9/10 cents per dollar. 1. it is a big ripoff, 2. Is it expecting a 9/10 cent coin???

Posted by: anonymous at August 26, 2004 05:35 PM

I hate 9

Posted by: Nathan Hughes at August 27, 2004 05:24 PM

For the one who misses Bugmenot, get Mozilla Firefox and it is an add-on that you can put in your context menu. I used it to log on to the article and it worked great. Nifty tool.

Posted by: Unknown at August 28, 2004 02:38 PM

Yes, registering with the NY Times IS an irritation. Every time I want to read an article, I have to sign in? For what?! When the rest of web (that I visit) is free of nags, why should I bother with them? MAYBE, if I NEVER cleaned out my files and kept my cookies around forever, it would not be a big deal. I've never read a NYT article to even know if I want to bother registering. Why do they need to know a thing about me in order to read one of their awe-inspiring articles?! LOL... as if they are that important...

Some of us keep extra files off of our PC and that includes cookies... NYT is a nag.

Back to the "broken" comment. Yes, 299.99 is really $300+, but there is and was and will be a reason why retailers do that. Maybe it was to make sure the till opened, dunno. I worked in retail in my teens and I can tell you that the average consumer doesn't realize that 3 for $6, really means $2 each. They WILL buy 3, in order to get the "discount". I actually had people argue with me, that the item shouldn't have been 2 dollars each, but 3 for 6 dollars.

Have to agree... that 1/10 of a cent at the gas pumps- MAN, am I glad that it wasn't a whole cent!!!! I couldn't afford to drive otherwise!

Posted by: Well, YEAH at August 29, 2004 03:47 AM

$1,149,998.99 Game Boy Advance Link Cable:

Here's product pricing that's broken in the way mentioned in the NYT article, as well as in another subtle way.

Posted by: RotJ at August 29, 2004 08:07 PM

>Game Boy Advance Link Cable

Yeah, that does seem kinda odd: that item is out of stock right now though - maybe that's why it's priced that way.

Posted by: Nathan Hughes at August 31, 2004 08:19 PM

Hey T. Bradley Dean - BugMeNot seems to be working just fine. And Wow! is it great! I suggest that everyone use BugMeNot as often as possibly. Very useful. Might I also suggest using Mozilla Firefox? It has a BugMeNot extension here: (4th one down)

Posted by: a bum at December 24, 2004 01:10 AM

What retailers could do is to DISPLAY THE PRICE I !@$%ING PAY!!!!!!!!!!


seriously, I bring the exact ammount of money that they display, and then there are fees and taxes. I just think it would be REALLY nice if they could calculate taxes and fees ahead of time and make THAT final total end in .99

another point: the companies also lose large sums of money making it 299.99 when they sell a lagre quantity of the items. if they sold 50,000 items, they just missed out on $50,000!

so, for the benefit of us all(including you, faceless corporations), REMOVE the .99 at the end of the prices and make the price inclusive of what the consumer pays.

Also, as I think was mentioned here before, Gas prices are listed on a 9/10 of a gallon basis. COME ON YOU DECEPTIVE BASTARDS IN THE ADVERTISING AND PROMOTION OCCUPATIONS!!! I WOULD MUCH RATHER SEE WHAT IM FULLY PAYING ON AN EASY TO MEASURE BASIS, THAN TO SEE WHAT YOU THINK I FALL FOR AS A INSIGNIFICANT FACTOR!!! a $2.00 gas price with the usual 9/10 of a gallon price would actually be a $2.22 gas price per gallon!! THE PROPORTION IS NO LONGER SIGNIFICANT.

sorry for the yelling, I just despise of and hate advertisers, lawyers, congressman, or any other people who conspicuously use deception to gain extra money and make my life that much harder.


Posted by: John at May 27, 2005 08:03 AM


Posted by: john at May 27, 2005 08:04 AM

I read a book about the man who started the $XX.99 craze. He was assinated in 1893

Posted by: The Reaper at June 27, 2005 06:51 PM

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