Discounts, sales, clearances, blue light specials. Whatever you want to call them, they only serve to confuse the customer. Confuse them into thinking they are getting a good deal, whether they really are or not. How many times have you found yourself looking at a clearance rack of clothing that says 30% off and in your mind tried to determine if the final price is a good price? I can think of one store right now that seems like they have their “sale of the year” every other month or so.
The true value of an item is getting lost in a flurry of marketing. Which is a better deal, the blender for $100 at Target where I get 5% cash back on my credit card, or the same blender at Macy’s for $125, but I can use my 25% off coupon, or should I buy it on Amazon.com for $90 with free shipping but a painful return process? Can you imagine a time when you could walk into any store and the prices are directly reflective of the actual costs to the retailer? I’m guessing that this is the way it worked in the olden days when you went to your local country store. As competition crept onto the scene, retailers were forced to find creative ways to draw customers to their stores.
The confusion has only gotten worse with the advent of social couponing sites such as
Groupon, LivingSocial , Muncharoo and a thousand other local copycats. I almost don’t want to go out to eat at full price. They might put up a Groupon tomorrow for that restaurant. There are even sites dedicated to living off of Groupons. Don’t even get me started on Extreme Couponing. To get the best price on an item, you have to spend hours clipping coupons and making a battle plan for each shopping trip.
Price confusion is only half of my complaint. I also don’t like the fact this sort of system is inherently unfair. Let’s say that a store purchases an item to sell for $30. You may pay $50 for this item and I may step up to buy the same item for $25 with a half-off coupon. How does that make you feel? In the bigger scheme, you just paid for part of my discount. If a retailer is selling an item at cost or for a loss, someone has to pay for it, and that someone is you who paid above what the item should truly be selling for. This reminds me of healthcare. I recently heard about a person who received a statement from their insurance carrier which showed that the original bill for a surgery was over $28,000, yet the insurance company got a $20,000+ discount and was only required to pay approximately $7,000. If I walk in and tell them that I don’t have insurance, I will be charged $28,000. I know why. Some people choose to pay their bills and some do not. The hospital has to charge someone for those who do not pay their bills, so they charge the responsible ones.
All of this seems so desperate to me. It cheapens the image of a store, but apparently most stores don’t care, as long as it gets another customer through the door. It may be idealistic, but in my perfect world, when I open a store I would be able to say “Hey, these are my prices. They are as low as I can make them and still keep my business open. Everyone pays the same price, so it’s fair and you don’t have to worry about the person in line behind you paying half price because they brought their Entertainment Book coupon.” There are many places that do adopt this principle, but unfortunately these are mostly only upscale establishments where you wouldn’t go unless you could afford to pay for their quality anyway.
So, what is the solution? I don’t know. Obviously I am not going to start a campaign to eliminate sales. I won’t boycott stores that have clearance racks. None of these tactics would make a difference. My plan: Focus on value for quality when shopping; teach my children to recognize marketing tactics, and get out the scissors to clip this week’s coupons. Oh well.