SLADE COLUMN: Why Penney’s strategy didn’t work
Clip those coupons, bring your club card, use the right credit card and get more discounts, collect the cash-back coupons at the register, look for sales and sort through the clearance rack. Aren’t consumers tired of jumping through hoops for savings?
Well, it’s a love-hate relationship.
As J.C. Penney’s now-former CEO learned last week, we may dislike the games retailers make us play for good deals, but given the choice, we’ll play the games to get the savings.
Here’s why that makes sense for thrifty people, and why J.C. Penney’s plan to eliminate sales and coupons and simply offer lower prices was a nonstarter.
If a department store’s regular price for something, a pair of pants for example, is $50, you might see those pants on sale for $35 or $25 as a promotional item. If that store wants to eliminate sales, it can lower the $50 price, but it can’t make it as low every day as their loss-leader get-them-in-the-store price.
When a customer knows they can find that $50 pair of pants somewhere, some day, for $25 to $35, they aren’t going to buy them at the store that eliminated sales and coupons.
They’re going to shop somewhere else, which is exactly what J.C. Penney shoppers did until the store ditched its “everyday low prices” plan and its CEO.
I know there are big-box stores that offer lower prices on groceries than I will find at a conventional supermarket.
But those low prices are far higher than what I end up paying for most of the things, because I stock up when the grocery stores offer things at half-price, as they do every week.
The failed J.C. Penney strategy came from former Apple executive Ron Johnson, who was head of Apple’s retail stores before Penney’s hired him.
The Apple Store has been a great success, but Apple doesn’t have to win customers with coupons and discounts, because competitors can’t deeply discount Apple products.
But if you’re a department store, grocery store, drugstore or big-box store, lots of your customers are looking to stretch their dollars and have gotten pretty good at it during the economic downturn.
We know which products regularly go on sale. We know how deep the discounts tend to go. We know what the regular price really is, not the “suggested retail price” mentioned in some ads.
To us, “everyday low prices” means it’s not on sale.
I’m sure there are people who regularly just go to a store and buy what they need, when they need it. But thrifty shoppers plan ahead and watch the sales and circulars, and by the time they buy, they know what a good price is.
For example, I like no-iron cotton shirts from Lands’ End, but I see enough of the company’s promotional emails to know that I shouldn’t buy those shirts for less than 25 percent off the regular price, with free shipping.
And I like Diet Pepsi, but I only buy it when Harris Teeter runs one of its buy-2-get-3-free sales.
A year or so ago, I considered buying one of those Ion turntables that lets you convert vinyl record albums to digital music files. I think they cost around $150 at the time, and I didn’t buy one.
A few weeks ago, my smart-shopping sister-in-law spotted one of those turntables on clearance at Kohl’s, and with an in-store coupon, it cost less than $18. So, now I have one.
Waiting, watching and taking full advantage of the coupons and the nonsense does pay off.
Everyday low prices? Meh.
Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.