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Mullins: We like discounts over rock-bottom price

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Published:   |   Updated: April 7, 2013 at 12:18 PM

What's more important to you as a shopper? Getting a good deal or feeling like you're getting a good deal?

By any rational measure, people should be thrilled with the new JCPenney price structure, but they're not, and company executives are tragically backtracking on what should be a brilliant idea.

Case in point: I visited the JCPenney in Westfield Citrus Park mall recently and found a first-run sport coat for $75 that other stores would price at $150. The JCPenney website has a Liz Claiborne black-and-white lace dress for $40
that's probably worth $100 or more. Those are pretty killer prices. And there's the rub.

For years, JCPenney mailed coupons and held sales for 30 percent or 40 percent off, so a coat priced at $150 would drop to $105 or $90. People felt
like that was a shopping victory.

Now, JCPenney has switched to Everyday Low Pricing and just parked the coat price at $75, even retroactively adjusting the price so it's $75 with
local tax. But many people don't feel as victorious buying a $75 coat if they can't brag that they scored a 30 percent off deal (which would be $105).

Perhaps it's because people perceive prices in ways that don't always make sense. Say you're buying a new pair of running shoes and they give you $5 off a $50 pair. Not bad, eh? Next, you head to an electronics retailer and buy an HDTV and you get a $5 discount on a $1,500 set. It's the same $5, but one deal thrills us, and the other almost seems like a joke.

This counterproductive thinking lurks in most of us. Just imagine a grocery store offering 90 percent off a $1 can of Coke. Wahoo! But we're unimpressed if a car dealer takes 90 cents off a Honda SUV.

As a result, JCPenney's financial results have tanked and the stock is down almost 60 percent. The company is retreating to a strategy of sales and coupons.

Ironically, this will mean my $75 coat will jump in price to $150 and I'd have to wait for a sale. The lesson here: If you want a good deal, go shopping at JCPenney now before they change back to the kind of pricing that shoppers think they want.

Speaking of JCPenney, several locations across the Tampa area are starting construction on the next phase of shops-within-a-store strategy: kitchens akin to those on Food Network to demonstrate how cookware works, with rows of chairs for customers to watch.

So the next time you're at the store, you might smell a whiff of dinner cooking.

Handily, the kitchens will be surrounded by racks of cookware for sale. This follows an initial phase of ministores inside JCPenney such as areas devoted to products designed by Michael Graves, Martha Stewart and an entire shop devoted to coffee gear by Bodum. JCPenney.com.

Does anyone remember phone numbers anymore? I mean, with everyone just tapping a name on their cellphone to dial, who needs to remember (813) xxx-xxxx, etc.?

I ask because a techie friend (Steve Bush at the Mac repair shop Screwbox; really, you should get to know him) introduced me to StarStarMe. It's an ingenious service through Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon that allows you to buy a vanity phone number such as “**Screwbox” or “**TacoBell.” When people dial it, they receive a text message with your contact information.

So instead of asking customers to remember your company phone number, just ask them to use something like **Pepsi or **Nike. For you marketers out there, I suggest you register your brand names before someone else does. StarStar.Me.

The man who called me sounded beyond embarrassed, but he wanted to warn others not to fall for the scam he did.

One night, he received a call telling him the good news that there was an unclaimed $100 credit for him with Target and Walmart. He could “buy” all kinds of things they had reserved for him. After lots of talking, there came a moment when the caller needed the man's credit card number to process the transaction.

He gave it. Then he realized his mistake (the original call came from an 855 area code) and he dialed the number on the caller ID. He complained to the person who answered, but they hung up. So he called his credit card company and canceled the card.

“I just don't want anyone else to fall into the same trap I did,” he said.

So it's worth remembering that any company that needs your credit card doesn't call you at home and ask for it. They can always send you a bill.


rmullins@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7919

Twitter: @DailyDeadline

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