Mind Candy

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If it is always on sale, is it really a bargain?

Posted by mandyf on July 4, 2012

I recall being maybe seven years old and going clothes shopping with my parents. While I despised shopping for clothes as I knew I wasn’t going to get anything I actually liked, I loved the fact that if I behaved a trip to the toy store was going to follow. It was on this particular trip I learned a very important tip on marketing without even realizing it.

As was our custom, we made a day of leaving our small town for the city to handle the annual school clothes shopping extravaganza. Not unlike many kids I wanted to get through the ordeal as quickly as possible, hit the toy store, and rush home to play with the toy I just got. Along the way I pointed to every store and queried “How about that one?” or “I bet they have good junk.” Needless to say my dad just kept driving.

Finally I saw something I was sure would get him to pull over short of our intended destination. “Look dad, a going out of business sale!” The banner proclaimed such mantras as deep discounts and everything must go. How could you refuse such a deal? My parents shared quick glance at each other followed by a chuckle. “Honey that store has been going out of business at least every three months since 1936 when I was your age.” How can that be I wondered? In my naive mind I guessed the sales were so good they must make just enough to eke out staying open a little longer each time. It was the seventies after all so they must be doing something right I reasoned.

As I grew older I understood the idea of such sales. As a teenager shopping for clothes suddenly became my passion. It was during this phase I discovered such phenomena as half off sales. All too often I would look at the “discounted” price tag and wonder if they expected me, such a sharp consumer, to be so gullible. The real question with sales like this that always sticks in my mind is fifty percent off what exactly? The original price the item was listed at or the price that was inflated prior to the sale so they could list the item as half off and not take a beating?

As adults we all know it isn’t an uncommon practice. It is akin to the “Pump and dump” trend in trading stocks. I admit that even though I know better I see the word “sale” on a banner somewhere and I turn into Johnny on the spot. Being the type of woman that shops every week, if for no other reason than to browse, I keep track of prices in regard to anything that might interest me. A certain retail store that will remain nameless had a pair of shoes I adored, just not enough to cough up the $270.00 price. I spent two months watching them and suddenly the price dropped to $216.00. Better but not good enough. Another month and suddenly they were $199.00. “You can do better guys” I muttered to myself as I passed them by yet again.

Finally the big fourth of July sale arrived. Immediately I ran to the shoes I coveted as the banner above the door proclaimed “30% off entire stock!” For $140.00 those shoes would be mine! I actually had the shakes I was so excited. There were my shoes cute as ever. I picked up the box, checked the size to make sure it was correct, and went about the rest of my shopping. At the checkout I had a rude awakening. My total was about $215.00. As I was only buying the shoes I was puzzled until it hit me. I was getting thirty percent off the original list price, not the last discounted price. In effect the price remained exactly the same as it was after the first price reduction despite the “sale.”

I pulled back my credit card, scowled a bit and remarked to the clerk that this was some great sale. She looked at me knowingly and said “I just work here.” I nodded agreement and left without my shoes. Sadly I never did get those shoes and even if I did they would only remind me of my previous disappointment.

Something being listed as being on sale really doesn’t always mean you are getting a discount. I learned this lesson, thankfully, but I know plenty of people that see the word sale and assume it must be a deal. Such things as half off and never ending going out of business sales are ingenious. Whoever invented those concepts should be enshrined in the marketing hall of fame if there is such a thing. Those two concepts put in action have spurred more people into making full or near full price purchases while patting them self on the back for being a shrewd consumer than any I can think of. We know this and yet we keep coming back for more.

The next time you go shopping the sales, look around, maybe you will get a real deal. It does happen. Just use some common sense. If the sale price makes you cringe it’s not much of a sale. Just as the wolf came in sheep’s clothing, the sale is probably full price wearing deep discounts clothing.


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