Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bargain all the wrong places

I come from a family of bargain shoppers. Years ago my dad would drive my mother nuts by going across town for a cheaper tube of toothpaste, passing a half a dozen drug stores en route. His siblings were even worse. After retirement, they'd hit the mall on an almost daily basis, first having lunch, then keeping an eagle-eyed watch on the sales racks until something they wanted finally hit a price they found acceptable.

I have to tell you, this particular gene apparently skipped right over me. Not that I don't love a good sale, but if I need toothpaste, I'm going to buy the brand I like in the store I'm already in. If I find the perfect blouse and it's not yet on sale, it's still mine!

A couple of days ago, while in Ft. Myers to give a speech before a wonderful group, the Friends of the South County Regional Library, I was chatting with one of their members about bargains. David Hauenstein, who writes their newsletter, and I were talking about when a bargain's not really a bargain at all.

For instance, I had customers at my bookstore who would mention to me a particular book they were reading. I always knew when they hadn't bought it from me. They'd driven 45 miles to the big discount store to get it for 40% off the cover price. Not that they wanted to admit that. What they never seemed to calculate was that in my store bestsellers were 20% off, frequent readers got an additional 10% off and accumulated points toward actual dollars off future purchases. So for the 10% or so they saved by buying the book elsewhere, they had to pay for gas for that 90-mile round trip. By my calculations, even at the price of gas back then, they weren't saving much, if anything.

After my return from Ft. Myers I was talking to another friend about outlet malls. She'd just gone on a wild shopping spree and come home with bags of bargains...blouses for a couple of bucks and who knows what else. She'd managed to find the super sales within the discounts. Now, once you find a blouse for $2, chances are you're really saving some money, but I've often been told that unless you're a real shopper and know the prices of certain labels, you may not be saving as much as you think you are.

These days, folks aren't buying much unless it's on sale. Unfortunately, I'm not entirely convinced that all bargains are created equal. I recall a major department store listing an item in one of its ads at 40% off before the holidays a few years back. That SALE price was higher than the regular price I had on the exact same item in my store.

I guess what it all boils down to is how much you like to shop, how savvy you are about it and whether the thrill of the hunt balances out the time expended.

Given the state of our current economy, what does it take these days to get you to buy something? A huge discount? Necessity only? A special occasion? I'd love to know.

Sherryl Woods


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