The Checkout

When Is a Sale Not a Sale?

Okay, will someone please explain to me the ads the promote a one-day sale, when the sale is really two days--or more? Take Macy's ad for its "ONE DAY SALE" today. "Savings and Values Storewide 25%-80% Off on Thousands of Items Throughout the Store."

But wait, the sale actually started yesterday. Of course, yesterday's sale was a "preview day" so maybe it didn't really count as part of the "one-day sale"--even though the store opens early on both days and the sale prices are good for both days.

I know, I shouldn't complain when stores are willing to run discounts for more than the advertised day. I appreciate, even relish, the constant sales, even those three-day sales that morph into four days and then run over into the next week's sales marathon. But these promotions make it easy to see why shoppers are always demanding discounts, even when there are no official "sales." Stores are constantly trying to build excitement and make it seem like a rare, fleeting event, even when it's not. But it must work since they continue doing it. You know--one weekend, it's the "biggest sale of the season." The next weekend, it's the "biggest sale of the year." Then it's the "special anniversary sale," followed by the "harvest" or "spring" or "summer" sale.

Macy's spokeswoman Elina Kazan explained the chain's promotion policy, saying the one-day sale is a company tradition that offers great values. "It is our signature sale that dates back to the early 1900's," Kazan said. "The Preview Day is an extension of the One-Day Sale and is an added service to our customers who may not be able to shop our stores on the sale day but can shop on the day before. The majority of our shoppers are working women, and we need to be flexible to accommodate their busy work and personal schedules."

So in other words, it's a two-day sale. As one of my colleagues says, "What do they take us for, idiots? In fact, we are. Lemmings, all of us. Give us a sale, watch us shop."

By  |  February 8, 2006; 8:53 AM ET Consumer News
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I received a "One Day Sale" notice from Macy's this week and was disappointed to realize that I wouldn't be able to attend because I work and attend school all day on Wednesdays. If only I had known about the presale then I would have taken advantage of it. Why would Macy's not simply advertise it as a two-day sale? Who are the people that are in on the presale secret and why do they get first pick? I don't really have time to worry about all this, as I write my two cents, but I agree with Ms. Mayer.

Posted by: Nicole | February 8, 2006 10:17 AM

All the ads in the newspaper mention the "preview day" and so do all the TV ads. So it's not a secret at all.

I agree that the constant "sales" make us expect a discount all the time. I can't imagine anyone ever paying full retail at the big department stores like Macy's and Hecht's (soon to also be Macy's). You know there's always another sale around the corner. Kohl's does it all the time as well.

Posted by: Glenn | February 8, 2006 11:53 AM

Let's face it. There are so many sales that sales prices are now the norm. If you buy on an off-sale day, your are being ripped-off.

Just like grocery "discount" cards. They aren't discount cards....they are don't get ripped-off cards!!

Enjoy NORMAL day prices!

Posted by: Gaithersburg | February 8, 2006 12:12 PM

Yawn.... I wasted minutes of my life reading this column. Please find Caroline Mayer something better to write about because this is crap.

Posted by: Warrenton | February 8, 2006 12:47 PM

When is a sale not a sale? I'll tell you. When they charge full price and call it a "sale". I'm on to them. They'll advertise a cheap woman's blouse at 40% off, and it's still overpriced.

Posted by: Stephanie | February 8, 2006 12:59 PM

Think I'd prefer a sale that went an extra day at Steinmart. Their sales of clearance items (to "preferred customers" using mailed coupons)are always on Friday, the worst driving day of the week. We get out to their store in Leesburg at 8 PM, and they close at 9. And they will not budge from that ridiculous day. I know. I've asked.

Posted by: Gene Barnes | February 8, 2006 2:09 PM

A Sears employee confessed to me that since by law they're not allowed to have an item always be on sale, they have several different model numbers for the exact same machine so they can rotate.

Posted by: Bill | February 8, 2006 2:45 PM

The point of the sale price is to get consumers to reveal their individual "willingness to pay." It is a way for Macy's and all other operations to price discriminate. This way Macy's can charge people who have high willingness to pay more than they can charge people who have low willingness to pay, but overall they can sell more units of goods than they would at just one price point and maximize what is sometimes known as the producer's surplus.

Posted by: scott | February 8, 2006 3:14 PM

In my office we have a standing joke. Someone glancing through the paper at lunch will look up and mock exclaim: "Big news: Hecht's is having a sale!" This has been going on since I've been here, and that's been years. This is not news.

Posted by: Michelle | February 8, 2006 3:15 PM

Of course, the decrepit old department stores, stuck in the 1940s, will mark everything at ridiculous prices and then have a good portion of their inventory on "sale" on any given day...for the same price you can find every day at Target. As the Depression era generation passes (G-d rest their souls), the department stores will have to wake up or go bankrupt. I mean, those that haven't already.

What really yanks me is buy one get one "free" offers. Hello, do I have to pay you? THEN IT'S NOT FREE!!! They should be required to call it "Buy two, get 50% off". That doesn't sound nearly as good, does it? But it's more accurate.

Posted by: The Cosmic Avenger | February 8, 2006 4:31 PM

What I really don't like is when mail order catalogs say that an item is on sale when it really isn't. I usually sweep through the catalogs to see if there is anything that I like I fold the page and sometimes keep the catalogs with products that I like for about 3-4 months. Then a few months later when I open a new catalog up, the same item that I identified earlier is.... get this now.... well it has a higher price marked through with a line and a lower price advertised as the sale price. When I get the old catalog to look at the savings, the price marked out (as the higher price) was never the original price. The price listed as a sale "is" the original price. I don't like that and it caused me to stop shopping with catalogs that I notice doing this. What really boils me is that a consumer who doesn't compare the old catalogue to a new catalogue would never know that ITS REALLY NOT A SALE.

Posted by: Queen A | February 14, 2006 12:17 PM

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