This morning, I did what I pretty much never do, and that was to get up early and go to a department store to go holiday shopping. I am not a shopaholic, or lover of the holidays — I don’t hate the holidays, I just am ambivalent about them.
Department store visits are a once or twice a year thing, usually around the holidays or Mary’s birthday.
The object of my present buying spree was my fiancé, who does not share my hatred of the department store. I explained to her once why I don’t like going there, and it’s because of something called discount pricing. Having agreed to marry me, she listened politely and quickly changed the subject. My attempt to proselytize the evils of department stores and discount pricing had failed.
Macy’s, Kohls, and Bed, Bath and Beyond have worked their voodoo magic on her. I do have the rest of our lives together to win this war, so I’m optimistic I may outlive these businesses.
What is discount pricing? BusinessDictionary.com describes it this way:
A valuation approach where items are sometimes initially marked up artificially but are then offered for sale at what seems to be a reduced cost to the consumer. For example, a retail store business might offer discount pricing on all of its apparel items for a limited time period in order to attract new customers and boost sales.
It’s like those Jos. A. Bank commercials — buy one suit, get three free! I’ll admit I shop at Jos. A. Bank, but not because these deals have suckered me. I do pay attention to them, just in case one day the first customer to come in is awarded a free franchise.
Shopping for the special lady in your life at department stores is a nightmare, because you see a set of kitchenware from Wolfgang Puck or Martha Stewart and it says “Usually $500, today $150!” You think to yourself: “Man, Wolfgang is really taking a bath here!” Then you scan the UPC with your smart phone and see that if you bought the kitchenware from here, it’d be you taking a bath.
Jewelry, what all women want, is damn near impossible to find at department stores. Oddly, however, it’s not as if they have a shortage of jewelry, it’s just that most of it is for grandparents (all of mine are dead), people of different cultural tastes than your lady, and about 10,000 pieces of jewelry that look as if they were swept up from a street market in Tangier and stapled to felt squares with catchy names etched on them.
Finding a decent piece of jewelry that isn’t behind the counter is like finding a needle in a haystack. And we all know to avoid the lady behind the counter, or she’ll guilt trip you into buying a cubic zirconia heart pendent for $200 (normally $1,200!) In addition to the discount pricing on the largely crappy jewelry, I think each store hides about five decent items in the normal areas, and nobody will tell you if they’ve all been sold. Sometimes, and I don’t know because I don’t buy a lot of jewelry (though that will change) I think that Walmart probably has better jewelry than a typical department store does.
Even basic items like picture frames are in this nightmarish kabuki dance of discount pricing. Normally, this frame is $50! But today, for you, it’s $9.99. And their frame typically selection sucks, nothing good in the middle. Even if you manage to find a decent frame, you have to very carefully peel those super sticky stickers off of the glass, after which the glass is all covered in fingerprints. At least Walmart has the sense to put the UPC label on the fake stock photograph in the frame. Good on them.
Discount pricing, translated if you haven’t gotten the point by now, means “fake sale.” The savings, much like what you find in President Obama’s budget or the pay-for in the latest spending spree bill, are imaginary.
“Well, sir, if we pretend the war funding goes until 2020, and we end the wars sooner, we’ll save TRILLIONS!”
“Johnson, you are a genius. I am going to appoint you head of the CBO.”
There is one department store that has recently earned my respect, despite my general distaste for them. After all, who likes walking through real-life version of minecraft with tons of scary salespeople popping out from behind their cube, trying to spray perfume on you or sell you lotion made with anti-aging bubbles (which are actually just air).
That store is J.C. Penney. Bloomberg Businessweek reported earlier this year that they decided to get rid of the annoying discount pricing:
The lynchpin of J.C. Penney’s revitalization is a new “Fair and Square Every Day” pricing strategy. The plan stems from Johnson’s realization that three-quarters of everything sold at J.C. Penney is typically sold at a 50% discount from list price. Instead of using deep discount sales to attract customers, starting this week the chain will simply offer three prices: (1) “Every Day”, (2) “Month Long Value” (theme sales such as back-to-school related products in August), and (3) “Best Prices” (clearance). Prices will also now end in “0″ instead of “99″ and price tags will list just one price (instead of including the de rigueur “previously sold at a higher price” convention).
In the long run, they’ll probably save millions in signage costs. Businessweek’s reporter thinks this strategy is risky, but I don’t think it’s as bad as they fear.
While discount pricing appeals to both genders, I am sure there are many men out there like me who don’t want to scan every item they’re considering buying to know what percentage of the “sale” is imaginary bullshit. On second thought, that might be a little more difficult to market than “SALE SALE SALE.”
Either way, next year I’m going to Penney’s.