Are We Really Creatures of Habit?

JCPenny recently tried to create a new marketing strategy company wide. Originally, they had prices that were quite high, but at the store there were big sales on everything. Sales that offered thirty, forty, fifty and even sixty percent off. The idea was that a pair of jeans  listed as ninety dollars, really only cost forty and the customer would feel good getting such a deal. Under the new method, the jeans that cost ninety dollars discounted to forty now cost, forty. Still the same price, but no faux savings.

I am also extremely baffled at consumers and being one myself I can laugh at them and me. I have no proof other than my own experience and listening to others talk, but it seems that consumers spend more when they think they are getting away with a great deal, whether it was or not. I can hear  someone saying, “I just bought a ninety dollar pair of jeans for forty bucks. It was a really good deal.” At a store down the road, the same jeans cost, forty dollars with no sale price.

I have caught myself feeling the same way about some deals, but it didn’t take long for me to realize what was going on and now I check out prices in other stores before shopping. I look for the most convenient store, with good customer service that offers reasonable prices.  I stay away from sales unless they do add a value to the purchase.

Do we have to have gimmicks before we choose to buy products at a particular store? I am reminded about reading of a time prior to 1920 when consumers purchased products based on need. Marketing also advertised to consumers the value of the product based on the technical quality of the product. This was prior to public relations and Edward Bernays. Afterward public relations and corporations began marketing to desire rather than need and changed consumer thinking. Could this be why we as consumers refuse  to change our habits? One consumer said, speaking of the changes at JCPenny, “I haven’t really tried to educate myself, but then I shouldn’t have to.”1

The same article suggested that consumers have been “conditioned to expect blockbuster deals from Penny”.  The change was from blockbuster deals to “predictable pricing”. JCPenny says that they are going to communicate the benefits of the new strategy in ads. One of the things that they said they have learned from this is that coupons are a drug and that it drove traffic to their stores.

Do we have to have coupons and pricing tactics to feel that we have made a good purchase or should we be like the one commenter who basically said we shouldn’t have to work at it or in a sense, “I don’t want to have to think”? In some ways the troubles are partly our own, because as consumer we seem to need a gimmick. Isn’t this just snake oil selling en masse?

There are a number of articles that highlight the troubles that JCPenny is going through because of their marketing changes. I have listed the two that prompted this post.

J.C. Penney’s shares in free-fall after 1Q loss

JCPenny Strategy Backfires

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