Shopping for clothes has always been one of my least favorite activities–about midway between root canal and colonoscopy. An exaggeration? Maybe. I’ve never been able to understand the fascination, the thrill of the hunt that digging through a pile of fabric holds for some people. A trip to the mall irks me, but the knowledge that the shirt I found at Dillard’s was on sale at Kohl’s last week drives me crazy. And it will likely be on sale at Younker’s next week. And remembering that the special price will be for a minimum of 15% off, more likely 30%, always makes me hesitate to pull the trigger on that sale. Top it off with the likelihood of somebody else getting that shirt for 30-60% off, and I’m feeling totally taken advantage of. Exploited. Victimized. Abused. Confused. Treated like a fool. In fact, I’m fairly sure retailers picture us all as no more than a mass of idiots.
In the first place, how do we know what a shirt, any shirt, is actually worth? Of course, we assume there is some inherent value in knowing the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. But where did that number come from? Does it really reflect the cost of materials, manufacture, transportation and a reasonable markup for the store? The evidence indicates that it reflects nothing more than a random number somebody grabbed out of the sky. How could we tell when we know that almost nobody actually pays that “original” price? More likely, it reflects the “what we can get away with” theory of marketing.
JCPenney CEO Ron Johnson said that only about one percent of Penney’s merchandise has been sold at the “original” prices. The rest is purchased at sale prices that can range from 15% to 80% off. He said the average was a 60% discount. When you are shopping at any of the major clothing retailers, only the fool pays the initial price. Between coupons, holiday sales, senior citizen days, clearance racks, weekly or monthly promotions, charity promotions, and who knows what other excuses, the need to pay that inflated fake price is almost nonexistent.
And don’t blame Penney’s. The store tried going to a more transparent pricing policy about a year ago. Everything was cheaper to begin with, on average about 40% off what they had previously said was the base price. And the prices stayed there– essentially, no markdowns. It was a flop with customers, and Penney’s has been forced to back off the practice of having just one price on their merchandise. A New York Post article last month reported that CEO Johnson is now asking suppliers to furnish Penney’s with letters confirming the suggested original prices, so that the markdowns appear to be even greater than before.
It seems shoppers missed the game, missed the coupons, missed the thrill of the hunt for bargains– even when it was a fake bargain. No wonder they presume we’re idiots. Younker’s fills our mailbox with expensive looking flyers on an almost daily basis. Kohl’s reminds us of every opportunity to “earn” Kohl’s Cash. Best Buy won’t let me forget that I have oodles of unused Reward Zone points that might expire if I don’t use them quickly.
Maybe we all need to be reminded of a simple truth. When we’re spending money, we’re not saving money. Even if the merchandise is on sale. When the checkout clerk is required to remind us, each and every time, of how much money we’ve saved, we probably haven’t really saved anything. And, in the unlikely event that I might really have “saved $80.00 at Kohl’s today,” why does my wallet feel so much lighter?