J.C. Penney recently gave up on last year’s strategy to abandon sales and coupons in favor of “everyday low pricing.” As an article in the New York Times points out, “simplifying pricing, it turns out, is not that simple”:
“It may be a decent deal to buy that item for $5,” said Ms. Fobes, who runs Penny Pinchin’ Mom, a blog about couponing strategies. “But for someone like me, who’s always looking for a sale or a coupon — seeing that something is marked down 20 percent off, then being able to hand over the coupon to save, it just entices me,” she said. “It’s a rush.”
Devoted coupon users like Ms. Fobes may be more frugal than the typical consumer. But most shoppers, coupon collectors or not, want the thrill of getting a great deal, even if it’s an illusion.
The article goes on to indicate that this type of illusion-seeking and the corresponding “rush” are sometimes due to certain levels of conditioning:
Even Walmart, which actually does pull off the trick of “everyday low prices” in its domestic stores, is finding it hard to convert consumers to a single-price model in countries like Brazil and China, where retailers give deep discounts on a few main products, then mark up the rest, said Mark Wiltamuth, an analyst at Morgan Stanley.
The problem, economists and marketing experts say, is that consumers are conditioned to wait for deals and sales, partly because they do not have a good sense of how much an item should be worth to them and need cues to figure that out.
Just having a generically fair or low price, as Penney did, said Alexander Chernev, a marketing professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, assumes that consumers have some context for how much items should cost. But they don’t.
Yet as AEI’s Mark Perry notes, from a producer and seller’s perspective, such schemes come in response to the ever-evolving and unpredictable demands of the consumer—in this case, particular shopping preferences. This is “not an enviable position to be in,” Perry writes, “to be at the mercy of fickle and unpredictable consumers.” (more…)