Sale is a Four-Letter Word

3 Aug

Disgust swept across her face as she eyed the tiny sticker.

“I bought this shirt two weeks ago at full-price,” the raven-haired beauty stated to no one in particular, her words laced with hints of Spanish.

I offered my sympathies: “Yes, everything is now 40% off,” suggesting she simply exchange the shirt for the lower price.  My words were little comfort.  “I shop here because I don’t want to see [clones of] myself walking around.  But everyone can now afford to wear this,” she continued, sighing heavily as she stuffed the shirt back into the cramped clearance rack.

“I once loved shopping at [a store just like this] but stopped when they began placing everything on sale,” she offered with a frankness that was sweet yet biting.

She was unconcerned by the significance of her desire to pay more; All she knew was that purchasing clothes at a premium placed her into an exclusive club, a membership she would never surrender over a few bucks.

And as she clicked away, heels echoing loudly against the hardwood floors, her words lingered, ominously foreshadowing things to come–should the company continue its flagrant use of the word S-A-L-E.

Though it will never cause grandmothers to wince or make mothers shield their little ones’ eyes and ears, sale belongs amongst the dank ranks of other infamous words of equal length.

Sure, in some stores, the presence of the word sale is customary.

The Walmarts, Targets and Costcos of the world relish their statuses as discount providers, luring clients into their stores with the promise of a good deal.

The Louis Vuitons and Pradas of this world would never tout a sale.  Doing so would underscore the sense of pleasure and accomplishment clients feel when they purchase such products.

For a store like mine, positioning itself as “affordable luxury,” the task is even more of a balancing act.

For the last 50 years, the company has touted its rich legacy of wardrobing the well-dressed woman, a distinction the company continues to cherish and promote.  But it and others stuck in the middle recently have become pitifully reliant of the power of the word sale.

They use it at every available chance—tossing aside pride (and brand value) in the meantime–to ensure a black bottom line.

Ironically, their frantic chase of the dollar is sending a faithful clientele, those like the outraged dark-haired woman, scurrying away.  The silver lining?  Recently, a new breed of client has emerged to replace them.  But her arrival is nothing to celebrate.

She is drawn by the scent of fresh markdowns.  She flocks to the clammy sales area, without even casting a glance at the latest full-price arrivals.

Correction: Sometimes she visits the full-price area, selects a few items worthy of her attention, tries the items on and leaves with the words “I’ll wait until they go on sale,” trailing behind her.

She is strategic and has conquered the instant gratification vein, the thing on which retail so frequently relies.

“No one in their right mind would pay full-price in here anymore,” a personal shopper offered as we scoured the store for a sheer rose pink sweater.  “There’s always some sale going on.”

This wasn’t always the case.  As one client so aptly noted, the word sale once rarely appeared in this store.  The company prided itself on its legacy and the distinction and quality inferred when women adorned themselves in its clothing.  It seemed only right to charge accordingly.

The recession challenged that strategy. 

As the company tried to stave off red profit lines and remain competitive amidst consumer budget cuts, it resigned to attracting clients at all costs.

The attempt was honorable: maintain current clients and attract new ones through a brand that offers “affordable luxury.”  The only problem?  The two terms are mutually exclusive.

Affordable goods are not perceived as luxurious.  And luxury goods should not be affordable.  At least not to the masses.  As the lovely client so eagerly pointed out, doing so simply erodes the value of the brand.

Here lies the dilemma: How to protect the company’s image while remaining in black?  Sales are the easy solution.  Slash the prices of the products and they will come.  But this begets a dangerous cycle—clients become acclimated to discounts and demand higher markdowns and greater percentages off to warrant new purchases.

The strength of four-letter words lies in scarcity.

Their  incessant use suggests a lack of command of language; likewise, the incessant use of sale suggests a lack of command of one’s brand.  If the only way to draw clients into a store is to knock off prices, “Houston, we definitely have a problem.”

Whether the real problem is inadequate inventory control and mis-projections of demand or lack of buzz and sub-par designs, internal evaluation must occur.  Sales should be the last alternative, not the first.

I know, I know, this all sounds really ironic coming from me, one who currently makes her living touting the latest markdowns to every client that enters our doors.

I’m certainly not against sales.  Like other four-letter words, sometimes a sale is warranted: But they should be sprinkled sparingly throughout the year or season.

Not occurring as often as swears from a sailor’s mouth.

Until next time. . .

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