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JCPenney slaps new high prices on goods

Consumer Investigation

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CINCINNATI - JCPenney is trying to recover from a horrible year. First they fired their new CEO, Ron Johnson, who had been brought in from Apple to turn the retailer around. Now they are bringing back sales.

But we found some of those new markdowns may be anything but a real deal.

New Stickers on Merchandise

At most stores, a "sale" looks like this: A shirt that was $30 now sports a new sticker showing $9.99. A top that was $69 now has a new sticker on the tag saying $34.
 
But these examples are what we found at Macy's.

It's a whole different story at JCPenney, where our hidden cameras found the troubled retailer marking up prices -- just to mark them down again a short time later.

This new price strategy appears to be Penney's latest attempt to lure back shoppers like Tracey Miller and Kelly Ballein, who abandoned it during its "everyday low price" strategy of the past year.

"I don't shop there anymore. They don't have sales, and it doesn't appeal to me," Miller explained.
 
"The change in the store, the sales, they don't have as much as they used to," Ballein said.

Shopper Anne Bandy hated Penney's switch to its no-sale strategy last year.

"I wasn't getting the deals I used to get, the coupons in the mail and everything," she said.

To get these women back, the sales are back as of last month.

Are the Sales Really "Sales"?

Based on viewer tips that prices were suddenly higher, we went to two JCPenney stores in the Cincinnati area, one on Colerain Avenue and the other on Fields Ertel Road.

In each, we found items with new, higher priced stickers covering up lower prices.

We spotted an $18 sticker covering up an old $13 price tag on a kid's swimsuit.

A Nike women's T-shirt was stickered at $25, covering up an older tag that had been $15.
 
I purchased a men's short sleeve shirt on sale for $13.99, marked down from $20, making it appear to be a great deal.

But outside the store, I removed the $20 sticker to learn it was originally just $10, shown on the original cardboard tag. Even with the sale, I paid 30 percent more than had I bought it before the price change.
   
Others noticing too

The consumer website "Mouseprint.org" captured what it claims are old and new pages from Penney's website.

The old page purportedly shows a swimsuit for $25 back in January. The newer Web page shows the exact  same swimsuit, now on sale at $26.60, down from $38.

The new "sale" is higher than the old "everyday" price.

A JCPenney spokesperson would not comment on what we found, instead responding with this statement:

"Last year, JC Penney created a new pricing structure that did not resonate with customers. So we are returning to a promotional pricing model that is commonly used in the industry to give  customers the value they are looking for when they shop with us. "

Bottom line: Penney's is now doing what a lot of stores do.

In Penney's defense, we still found a lot of great deals, such as shirts for $10, and final clearance items as low as $3.

Finally, there is nothing illegal about this: Stores are allowed to raise and lower prices as they see fit, as long as they are not staging an endless "going out of business" liquidation sale.

Wherever you shop, don't waste your money.

RELATED: JCPenney posts bigger 1Q loss than expected : http://bit.ly/10JTV8J
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