THERE are few things that have the ability to drive South Africans crazy like the four-letter-word “sale”. You’d swear that there is a witch sitting in some half-lit hut with a boiling cauldron, calling our names just to keep us dazed under her spell.Last Friday, I was also caught when several fashion stores pasted giant posters of the magic word on their windows and in their aisles. With almost all the retailers, it was in big white letters with a bright red background. At times it had an exclamation mark, as if the bold capital letters were not enough to catch one’s attention, and others had percentages, showing the amounts customers would be able to save if they bought any of the items with discounted prices. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the dominant colour on the posters was red since it has been described as the colour that not only heightens awareness but also a sense of importance, passion and aggressiveness. If you don’t believe me, just go onto Youtube and watch videos taken from any EFF rally.Now back to what I was talking about earlier, on Friday people flocked to the city’s shops to get their hands on the items that were said to be selling at reduced prices.I also made the mistake of deciding to go shopping for birthday presents for people whose special days are coming up. I was hoping to save a few hundred bucks since retailers promised an “end of season sale”. I’m not sure which season is ending though, since Spring Day is only next month.Anyhow, I went out for what was meant to be a shopping spree; I even had a budget and comfortable shoes on — in case I had to walk around for hours. I’m not going to focus on the annoying fact that a Pietermaritzburg shopper is not really spoilt for choice as the local shopping centres have a limited number of stores, because that’s not going to help anyone. I started at Edgars because I prefer buying shoes as presents. It just makes my life easier because it’s not complicated to deduce what kind of shoes a person likes. Anyway, Edgars had my favourite kind of sale, where you can buy one item and get one free, but unfortunately they didn’t have the shoe sizes of the people I wanted to buy shoes for.I’m the kind of person who does not ordinarily buy things I didn’t go into the shop for, even when they are on sale. Meanwhile, my fellow shoppers dragged packed trolleys around the store as they looked for items to pile on top of their growing bounty. I watched in envy as people, with proud smiles on their faces, walked out of the store with several pairs of sneakers. I visited several other stores but something disturbing made me start comparing prices between the other shops that had sales on. This was after I found a partially peeled sale price tag in one of the popular fashion outlets. It left me with questions about who was having the real sale. I’m not going to name the stores but I must say that I was disappointed to see that some of the chain retailers had the original price that was the same, and at times even less than, the so-called sale price.With the expensive cost of living that most of us are faced with, I’m sure many people, like me, think that shopping at a sale will save us a few rands here and there that we can use later on something else but it seems some stores are using it as an opportunity to rip us off. Fraud is a crime anywhere you go in the world and it’s not fair to us consumers to be misled into thinking that we are getting a discount when we are actually paying more. This unethical and shameful conduct by retailers needs to stop.I’m aware that the fashion retailers are struggling to keep sales up and suffered huge losses in the previous months but that is no excuse for misleading customers.It should be declared as false advertising if you are going to sell an item that is purportedly on sale at the same price or more than it was before. With the popular Black Friday sale coming up in a few months, I can’t help but wonder how many stores are going to try to pull the wool over our eyes and make us buy items on sale at non-sale prices. I’m not familiar with online shopping so I can’t say much on the topic but if the item’s price is reduced then the customer must pay less.I must applaud those shops that had genuine sales though, because their customers benefited from that but there must be some sort of recourse for customers where retailers are found to have lied about the sale.• Nokuthula Ntuli is a senior reporter at The Witness.