Friday, December 26, 2008

Salt Lake Tribune Business Columnist Lesley Mitchell Tells Macy's Where To Stick Their Gimmick-Laden Coupon For $10 Off

Generally, the one Salt Lake Tribune blogging columnist I pay the most attention to is Glen Warchol. On his Salt Lake Crawler blog, he doesn't mince words - particularly about Tooele or Chris Buttars - and I probably disagree with him as often as I agree with him. But the guy's content is readable, and quite entertaining at times. He's taken time off for the holidays, and I'm already experiencing mild withdrawal symptoms.

However, another Tribune blogger has caught my attention by addressing one of my pet peeves; gimmickry in commerce. You know, the special deal where you get 50 percent off, but only between certain hours during certain phases of the moon, and then if you actually try to claim the deal, the "product" is suddenly "sold out", and, of course, there's no rain checks. The Tribune's business reporter, Lesley Mitchell addressed this issue in this post on her Our Cheap Chic blog.

Mitchell was rather intrigued by a Macy's coupon which appeared in the print edition of the Tribune. The coupon was good for $10 off on a $25 purchase any already-discounted sale or clearance items. Her shop-til-ya-drop heart jumped for joy, until she saw the gimmicks. Here's her description:

Then I saw the fine print, which I actually had to use a magnifying glass to read. There are no less than 50 "exclusions." The coupon cannot be used on "specials," (whatever those are) fine jewelry, cosmetics, a plethora of designer and non-designer brands, Holiday Lane department trim, cards and wrap, ANY electronics, as well as electrics and furniture, mattresses and area rugs. The coupon also is not good on "everyday values" or "morning specials." (Can anyone explain what these are?) Until someone can tell me what I can actually buy with this coupon, I think I'll just go shop somewhere else.

Great response on Lesley Mitchell's part. When merchants load up their offers with gimmicks, we need to take our business elsewhere. The advertisers have got us so hooked on gimmicks that we actually think we're getting good deals. Deceptive motivational advertising was the other issue foreseen by Joseph Smith when he revealed the Word of Wisdom; it wasn't just the harmful substances, but the "evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days" that also concerned him. What a perfect one-line description of the modern advertising industry that was; how can anyone doubt that Joseph Smith was a prophet after reading that?

However, I've already practiced what she's preaching, namely because of another irritating gimmick of commerce; the "rebate" game. Typically, a merchant will lure you into a store offering a $799 laptop for $599. Surprise, surprise. To get the discount, you've got to send off for "rebates", sometimes to as many as five different vendors. CompUSA was infamous for these tactics, and Office Depot and Office Max persist in these tactics today.

In my case, late in 2005, I decided to buy a new laptop. CompUSA and Best Buy were the competitors. Both offered good deals. But while CompUSA required that I send in for "rebates" to benefit from the deal, Best Buy offered the savings UP FRONT. Guess who got my business? Best Buy. Best Buy once forced customers to play the "rebate" game, but then wised up when customers said "if you want to give us savings, give us savings".

We have the power of the purse. We must use it freely and wisely in order to compel responsible behavior from merchants. Using our freedom to choose is the ultimate - and most effective - form of regulation.

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