Monday, January 3, 2011

Nancy Drew and The Case of the Repeating Offer

Happy New Year!  I hope 2011 is an excellent year for you!  During the mad dash run up to Christmas, I happened to walk in a multi unit women's clothing store.  There were some nice things in the window that attracted me but what drew me in was a big red sign that said:

"Today Only!  40% Off!"

I walked in, was promptly greeted by a sales associate and told the offer was really truly that day only.  My next few minutes of the store was sheer torture.  Anything I looked at for more than a second, touched, appraised, etc., invited comment from this same associate to the point where I felt under siege and left earlier than I had wanted.  The associate half followed me out and her parting words were that I was going to miss the offer if I left without buying something that day.  


Especially considering a few days later, that same sign was miraculously in that store perched in its same position.  And other outposts of that store had that same sign... and thanks to identical physical layouts, the sign was also in the same position!  I don't know if other sales associates were similarly cloying - I didn't bother entering out of (very little) spite.

Admittedly, my spite may have been a little self directed.  I can't believe I believed the "today only" sign especially when there's been an oriental rug store around the corner that's been pulling this same stunt! And I can't believe this chain's gall to have that sign repeating itself like Bill Murray's GroundHog Day.  As a customer, my feelings were hurt.  As a marketer, I wished for better.

Now, I understand that the 4th quarter is always make or break time for retailers.  It was particularly driven home to me thanks to the 6+ years I working with Sears and Citigroup on the Sears private label and co-brand credit card portfolio.  Retailers do what they must to attract buying foot traffic into their stores: open on Thanksgiving for a few hours, stay open all night, offer door busters, free shipping on large purchases, customer appreciation events (h/t David Yurman!) among other goodies.

And yet, this repeating sign left me cold despite the fact that Christmas has become a money making engine.  I found it cynical.  I found it manipulative.  I found it mean.  And, I found it profoundly disrespectful of customers.

It's true that loyalty has fallen by the wayside in the search of the best for the cheapest.  Many of us forego brand/store loyalty when something becomes an irresistible deal.  I do it all the time.  And this store wished to capitalize on this type of retail ADD to win share of wallet.

I can't be the only one who noticed the repeating sign.  And while some may have shrugged, I'm sure others were a little miffed, as I was, and may be asking, as I was:
  • What else in this store is misleading?  Is it the pricing?  
  • Is the return policy written vaguely?  If I make a return will it be in the form of a store credit only and of limited duration?  Is making an exchange going to be difficult?
  • Do they think I'm dumb?
  • Is the quality worth the price?
  • Do they truly want me to come back?
  • Do they want me to endorse them to others?
I'm sure there are a host of others (feel free to add some).  There are no good, "positive spin" style answers to these sample questions I've posted.  There isn't a warm fuzzy that materializes when people start wondering these types of things about your business.  You don't want people to be wondering these things about your business, period.

Signs like this are, at first blush, an excellent pull tactic but ultimately, a horribly short sighted approach to building a steady customer base.  Oh sure, this chain has been around for a while and I don't think my observation will, admittedly, make or break them as a functioning enterprise.

The material point here is that this approach encourages bad behavior in that people likely have a non exclusive, casual relationship with it as opposed to "going steady" or making it the #1, go to place for all things women's apparel.  After all, why pledge yourself as a customer to a business if they display behaviors that make you question their motives.

Did you see insincere signage, too?  Please share!

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef


  1. Thanks Parissa. On a similar front, albeit not a holiday mirage, I recently booked a trip to a 3 nights stay at a casino resort in Las Vegas. Whilst I was preparing to confirm, for the third time, using their online system, I noticed that my base rate of three nights, and taxes was applied to a Total. Not subtotal, but total. So I confirmed and received an email confirmation that now included a $50+ additional resort fee per night tacked on upon check out. Now, it did read that resort fees did apply, but it was very confusing and misleading. So much so that I picked up the phone, waited 45 minutes to talk to a reservation specialist who admitted to me that the pricing was very misleading. HMMM, not so sure that I want to Gamble at a Casino in which their employees admit to misleading policies. Some odds are better than others at the tables, but the Casino always has the upper hand. Case in point. But then again, at least I know my odds going into the Casino.

  2. Traditional sales training for sales reps is "always be closing" no matter what the buyer says(big mistake and bad old habit by industry). All shoppers feel the same approach as corporate targets have to be met and push bad behavior by sales reps at all these retail stores.

    Lets say we had an ideal sales rep, well trained and under no pressure to sale you something.

    One of the most successful retail reps I ever knew, would take your phone number and say I would give you a call if it goes to 60% or if you wanted red and we only have blue. No pressure while trying to find out what the customer really wanted. He would recommend other stores if the item was a specialty and they didn't carry it(which retail store clerk do you know that would do that????).

    You want a cotton shirt and they only have wool. He would say come back in the summer or I can call you then when its in our catalog.

    What most people mis understand about "building a relationship strategy" of this type, was that he would call his clients (over 1,000 of them who were all corporate type clients and can easily spend $10k per visit) and say our 60% sale is on, should I put aside your favorite items?

    Everyone would show up and buy multiple items (resulting in x10 sales) and more repeat business. The clients would also bring friends(how about some buzz marketing at work?).

    No wonder less than 0.5% of sales people make a lot of money and the rest struggle.

    Great post!

  3. Ron and Amir, thanks for your comments. I am always surprised that the straightforward approach is always the one not taken. At the risk of self promotion, I must refer you to my November 29 post which was inspired by Miracle on 34th Street:

  4. Parissa, the straightforward approach takes effort, and time. Who has that these days? How to capture the foot and vehicle traffic that won't come by again for 2 months? Maybe this chain is hurting people like you who go by all the time, but they have all this great (window) real estate - they can't just put "come in and see what we don't have on sale because our prices are already low."
    Or can they? Walmart's rollback does....

  5. True - I did walk by quite a bit because I was on holiday for a few weeks and consequently did notice the stunt but I can't have been the only one.

    That said, they can't do the WalMart marketing strategy because the price point of their clothing far exceeds that of WalMart even with the 40% off. I'd contrast this unnamed store's approach with Nordstrom which formally says there are set sale times for Women's and Men's sales as well as their anniversary sale. It's straightforward and, I'd argue, Nordstrom doesn't seem to be suffering with the weight of the effort.