Mistakes Everyone Makes While Shopping At Target

The occasional boycott notwithstanding, almost everyone loves Target and can get lost for hours sifting through unexpected deals. There's even a short YouTube series about this phenomenon called Husbands of Target, in which husbands abandoned in the Target parking lot for hours band together and formed a club of sorts. (They might have more fun going inside and shopping for themselves, at least with the right guidance.)

Like so many things in life, shopping at Target is what you make of it. Take the time to prepare, and you will bring home great stuff at low prices. Go in unschooled, and you might find you could have done better elsewhere, or gotten better deals if only you took the time to scour for coupons or promotions. Getting prepared is a matter of understanding the mistakes Target shoppers commonly make so you can avoid them. From not knowing how to read clearance stickers to not combining multiple coupons, here are the mistakes to avoid.

1. Assuming Target has (or doesn't have) the best prices

Big retailers with a reputation for low prices are sometimes known for inflating their prices on certain items, so shop around. Target maintains a list of retailers for which it will match prices, such as Amazon and Home Depot, with the usual restrictions, such as it being the exact same model number. You can view the complete list on the Target help site. Price-matching doesn't apply to clearance and other sales, typos in prices, items sold by third parties, certain categories (such as contract mobile phones and optical services), and a handful of other exclusions.

You have 14 days after your purchase to find a lower price. The competitor's price must be valid at the time of the match, and you'll need to bring proof of the pricing (such as a sales circular).

There's confusing and sometimes erroneous information online about whether Target matches prices with its online store. It does, and its website is sometimes cheaper than its store. But keep in mind that it doesn't match prices between Target's physical store locations. And Target also won't allow you to use a Target Circle coupon once a price match is made, so make sure you weigh your options on which is the cheapest route.

2. Not using your Target RedCard strategically

According to Forbes, Target's RedCard credit and debit cards are a good deal (5% back on most purchases and free shipping) and include instant rewards, special offers, no annual fee, and easy acceptance terms. But a good deal is not always the best deal. By comparison, the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card offers 5% on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, and you can also get 2% back at select restaurants, gas stations, and drug stores, as well as 1% on all other purchases. (You also get 1% on non-Target purchases with RedCard, if you're a Target Circle member.) So, there might be times when using a competitor's card on Amazon makes more sense than using RedCard at Target.

On the flip side, with the RedCard, you'll get free two-day shipping from Target's online store without the $119/year Prime membership required for the Amazon Prime Rewards card. Since Amazon offers 5% back on purchases, this means you would need to spend almost $2,500 each year for the cashback to pay for the Prime membership. (The Amazon Rewards Signature Card offers 3% back with no Prime membership requirement.) As CNBC points out, the RedCard rewards could still outweigh the competition. Of course, keep your eyes on the price: Getting 5% back when you pay 7% too much isn't a deal at all.

3. Not combining manufacturer and Target coupons

This sometimes seems like too good of a deal, but manufacturer and Target coupons can usually be "stacked" during checkout, giving you both discounts in most cases. For many of us, at least those of us who are Gen X or older, the phrase "manufacturer coupon" calls to mind coupons in sales flyers (remember those?) you'd get in the Sunday newspaper. The process has gotten a lot simpler thanks to the internet. Just search sites like Coupons.com, Coupon Mom, and Savings to find coupons that meet your needs.

It's even easier to find Target coupons to stack with those manufacturer deals. Just browse around the Deals tab on the Target website. You can then see the weekly ad, the clearance section, and the Target Circle offers. If you prefer to see a text listing of current Top Deals aggregated in one place, you can find a list of the current promotions in the Target website's help section.

4. Not using the Target app and app coupons

Target's mobile app, available for iOS and Android, was formerly called Cartwheel. It includes Target Circle deals, weekly ads, and clearance updates, and you can usually combine these coupons with other offers. The app now includes Target Circle deals as well as special app discounts, RedCard exclusive deals, and more.

The Target app has many features you might want to take advantage of, including a shopping list feature, your store's weekly ad, special website pricing, stock quantities, ratings and reviews, and a wallet barcode that makes checkout a snap. The wallet feature is especially important because it combines all of your Target discounts (but not manufacturer coupons and offers) into the lowest price before checkout.

Target's Drive Up feature is only available in the app. Drive Up allows you to place your order and have it delivered directly to your car when you arrive at the store. (However, you have to go inside for the standard order pickup.)

5. Trusting the Target website

This won't be news to most of us, but item availability can be slow to update on the Target website. So for hot items or items listed as having limited availability at your local Target store, call ahead or steel yourself against disappointment if the items turn out to be sold out.

Target gives you a couple of other options when an item is out of stock. You can ask for a rain check or check with a Target team member about substitutions. Rain checks are good for 30 to 45 days, depending on the state you're shopping in, and let you get the sale pricing after the sale is over. There are a few exclusions, such as clearance items and contract mobile phones. You also want to ensure you get the rain check in writing since Target will only accept official paper rain checks.

You can get a substitution for similar items by talking to an employee about the out-of-stock item you were looking for and getting something similar for the same price. According to Passion for Savings, if the sold item is eligible for a rain check, pick up a similar item you would like to buy and ask an employee if it qualifies for a substitution. There are the expected limitations. For example, you can't substitute media titles or mobile phones.

6. Steering clear of clearance

Target clearance sales start at 10% and can reach up to 70%. That's pretty hefty, and other shoppers know it too. You can beat the competition by showing up on the day when items are marked down to see what's new. According to All Things Target, most Target stores mark items as clearance using a specific schedule. On Monday, electronics, accessories, kids' clothing, books, baby items, and stationery go on sale, and on Tuesday, expect to see price cuts on domestic goods, women's clothing, pets, and food. Wednesday sees sales in men's clothing, health and beauty products, diapers, lawn and garden products, and furniture. On Thursday, guests can see discounts on houseware, lingerie, shoes, toys, sporting goods, decor, and luggage, and on Friday, auto, cosmetics, hardware, and jewelry go on sale.

At any given time, a Target store's clearance offerings are likely to include at least a few great deals in the 50 to 70% off range, and that's usually worth a poke around. While you're at it, poke around the Target website as well. Some clearance items can be shipped, and the prices are just as good. Shipping is free with your RedCard or with $35 orders.

7. Only shopping clearance items in person

One of the great things about clearance sales is the aspect of discovery — or the unexpectedness of treasures you find while digging around. You don't typically do much planning or make a lot of shopping lists for clearance shopping. But what if you could? What if you could plan ahead for big savings on particular items that you know will be in stock, or at least have a good chance of still being in stock?

You can do just that on Target's website. To see your local store's clearance items online, click Clearance under the Deals tab, select your local store, and then choose "Making a list" in the "How are you shopping today?" column. As always, you might be rolling the dice on any clearance items marked "limited availability" in your store. A better way to interpret "limited availability" (and not just for clearance goods) might be "few if any."

You might experience a slightly different thrill of the hunt when shopping online, but think of the benefit. You can browse through all of the clearance items without wandering around the whole store, which almost certainly means you'll discover things you need (or at least want) in sections of the store you wouldn't normally visit.

8. Not knowing how to read clearance stickers

Well-known couponing experts Heather Demer and Heather Wheeler, who are collectively known as The Krazy Coupon Lady, say that if you can read the secret codes, you can benefit even more from Target's clearance sales. Clearance items get steeper discounts over time and are marked with red or yellow stickers. Items with prices ending in .04 are marked as low as they will go, and you should probably snap them up right away. Prices ending in .06 or .08 will be marked down again. Items ending in other digits might or might not be marked down again.

So, you can plan a second visit (particularly for less popular items) to get the maximum benefit from the sales. If an item's stock is low, you might choose to buy it at the current (but maybe not the lowest potential) price, just to make sure you don't lose out altogether. According to Demer and Wheeler, Target typically marks down clearance items every two weeks, but this varies from area to area (and perhaps from item to item), so keep that in mind when planning your next clearance shopping trip.

9. Checking out of the holiday spirit too soon

Target's post-holiday sales on Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween, and other holiday merchandise (including summer and back-to-school seasons) are famous for reaching as high as 90% off, says Christy Palmer of All Things Target. Don't let shopping burnout cost you.

Take Christmas clearance, for example. The sales start on the day after Christmas and proceed through a markdown schedule of 30%, 50%, 70%, and then (for whatever's left) 90% off. This happens at a much faster pace than Target's regular two-week clearance markdown schedule. Some Christmas items reach 90% by the first few days of January. All Things Target demonstrates that it's not unusual to find holiday deals that can be used year-round, particularly in categories like home decor. And stock brought in for Christmas can be marked down on the Christmas discount schedule even if it's not specifically a holiday item. For example, gift sets might not be specifically holiday-related, but will eventually reach the 90% holiday markdown if the things hang around long enough.

10. Not scanning your items prior to checkout

Target stores feature UPC barcode scanning stations you can use to check, or double-check, prices. This is particularly useful when you find items out-of-place in the store or suspect an item might be on a clearance markdown schedule. Even more helpful is the Target mobile app, which will allow you to scan UPC codes as well. The app will tell you the current price, and sometimes the item will be on sale without the shelf indicating as such. Not only that, but it will also reveal all applicable Target discounts, such as Target Circle pricing.

Brian Wright, the eclectic blogger at Randocity, suggests scanning prices away from the store, which appears to offer you the best available price based on your proximity to multiple stores, according to his experiments. This means, when you're at a grocery store, bring out your Target app and scan your item in question. If it's cheaper than what you normally see at your Target store, buy it for in-store pickup. That way, the price will become locked in, and you can essentially buy it for a discount. 

11. Not reading the signs

The number of signs an American encounters on an average day can be startling, so it's little wonder that we don't always catch all the details displayed to us in banks, gas station pumps, and Target stores. But they can be important, so you should know what to look for. According to GoBankingRates, if you're in a store but undecided about a purchase, Target's red and white signs for unadvertised sales will show the sale dates near the bottom, so you can plan accordingly. Some unadvertised sale prices might be valid for as long as a month, somewhat reducing the urgency to decide while standing in the store.

It's generally a good idea to read the fine print on signs, coupons, and ads that apply to you when time allows. And always trust the terms in the fine print and on Target's website before necessarily believing any advice you get from couponing sites and the like. For example, there's a lot of contradictory, and often incorrect, information online about Target's coupon policies, so it's worth a readthrough of the company's official rules if you're going to be using coupons regularly or trying particularly daring strategies or combinations with your coupons.

12. Not buying things off your own registry

This one seems a little convoluted, or seems to require a lot of planning, but for big-ticket items, it might be worthwhile. According to Target, you don't need to worry if you don't get everything off of your Target baby or wedding registry. As the event date nears, Target will issue a 15% off "registry completion" coupon for the unpurchased items so you can get what you need.

Gaming this benefit was all too predictable, so Target has some restrictions in place. The registry must have been created 14 days before the coupons are issued. Coupons only apply to a single transaction in a Target store or online. And there's quite a list of excluded products on the Target help site. Vouchers will be emailed to you (and will become available in the Target app) eight weeks before a baby's due date or the week of a wedding. This discount can be combined with Target Circle and RedCard savings.

13. Not hitting the Dollar Spot

OK, sure, the Dollar Spot area (which Target has recently renamed Bullseye's Playground) in the front of Target stores is designed to make you spend a little more. But sometimes it can be worth a quick walk-through on your way to children's apparel. For one thing, there are the prices. Everything is between $1 and $5, which you can't even beat at the Dollar Store anymore. And the stock is seasonal, rotating every eight weeks or so, which keeps things fresh and relatively up-to-date. Finally, the dollar items have been subject to the same clearance markdowns as other stock, which means the occasional 10-cent find might just be waiting for you.

Yes, you're more likely to find a USB charger there than anything you might charge with it, but this is a feature, not a bug. Would you really want to use a $5 cell phone? No, better to just keep your current one charged so you can run the Target app until your battery gets hot.

14. Buying some of everything at Target

According to the shopping mavens of the internet, certain categories of products available at Target are frequently of lower quality or higher price than those found elsewhere. Search couponing and consumer advice websites like Alot Living, where you will learn that shoes, furniture, mobile accessories, certain store brands, and items like fresh produce have a sub-par reputation at Target.

Such opinions aren't hard to come by. A Consumer Reports survey found that Target's produce is lacking in quality. CBS News reports that Target fails at delivering top-quality electronics, party and craft supplies, and even gift cards.

Of course, your mileage might vary. Anyone can publish an opinion on the internet, and the dissatisfied are the most motivated to post a negative opinion. Pay attention to sources (and their motivations), and you can get to the bottom of things. For example, Redditors, in general, might not be known for their moderate online opinions, but finding a subreddit dedicated to interior design can lead you to Reddit posts with reasonable opinions on whether or not Target offers substandard furniture. 

15. Ignoring the 'Target Effect'

Target stores are notorious for sucking shoppers into spending more than they had planned, which is called the "Target Effect," per NBC News. If this is an issue for you, use the Target app to map the location of items on your shopping list and bypass impulse buys and other hazards. You can also use store pickup and the Drive Up service to avoid temptation altogether. Furthermore, online prices are sometimes better than in-store prices — another good reason for shopping online in advance.

But the Target Effect exists because there are certain areas in which the retailer excels. Of course, this is partly a matter of personal preference. You can generally expect good results when shopping for toys, home goods (perhaps excluding furniture), video games, movies, and household staples. You can also score in the grocery section, so long as you avoid the fresh produce. And certainly, you can take advantage of all the available deals, as long as you keep your head about you and only buy what you need or what you truly think is a good idea.

Insider reports that the typical Target shopper visits 21 times per year and spends about $50 per trip. This is how you get to be the seventh-largest retailer in the world with high degrees of customer loyalty. The Target Effect is not to be taken lightly.