Friday, April 4

Fishing With Prices: Target

Lisa Thurmond, a college student who pens a sometimes funny, often satirical, and always interesting blog Lisa’s World, recently helped popularize a camera-phone picture posted by Michael Wesch, a professor at Kent State University, on Digital Ethnography, a student work group blog.

The picture? A “2 for $4.98” offer on Archer Farms organic flatbread at Target. The price for one? $2.49. He posted it without comment. She called it manipulation.

Both posts garnered some interesting reactions and responses. Some comments zero in on consumer psychology: if it looks like a sale, our brain reacts like it is a sale, even when it isn’t a sale. Others, they called it patently unethical and misleading.

Only one person defended Target by calling it marketing” that all mass merchants are employing. Her comment was quickly voted to the bottom.

Well, technically, posting “2 for $4.98” as an advertised price is not unethical. It would require Target to imply that there is a sale as opposed to the consumer inferring that it is a sale. However, resting on that point is about genuine as attempting to redefine what the definition of “is” really is.

The bottom line for marketers? It doesn’t really matter whether “2 for $4.98” is ethical or not. If your price point offer is irritating customers, being technically right could cost you more than being theoretically wrong.



Anonymous said...


Great article as always. This one really has me realizing how much the world is changing and how consumers are taking that stand. I know we have had similar discussions with United Health Care, Comcast, even the Endoscopy Clinic, but this is the ultimate common denominator, whether it's Target, Walmart, KMart, or any discount store or grocery store. Shopping at these stores is something we all know. This type of marketing, even when there is no savings, or my favorite is when the savings is a penny (I've even seen a faux pas where it cost more to buy multiples!), is very commonplace. To hear about the uproar that has come from these two posts cracks me up.

Please don't get me wrong, I'm all for this type of marketing to be outlawed, as someone who has done her own grocery shopping for over 15 years now, I just never thought I would see society stand up to 'the man' on this one! :)

Kim on 4/4/08, 11:07 AM said...

I shop at an average of 5 stores per month (supermarkets and Target) to get what I need. They all try to dupe the consumer with "pricing" strategies, but Target is the shrewdest of them all.

Don't get me wrong: I like Target. I shop there because their prices on lots of household items (paper towels, Windex, etc.) are far cheaper than my supermarkets.

But Target also entices people with deals that they often don't follow through on unless you speak up. Case in point: Two days ago I went there to buy a jumbo box of diapers for my daughter, which was on sale for $18.99, a decent price (plus I had a coupon for $1.50 off). On the shelf there was a sign advertising that if you bought the diapers plus two "qualifying" other products (specific shampoos and health care products), you would get a $5 Target gift card automatically at check-out.

Well, I bought the other two qualifying products that I use (the prices were good on those too) and the cashier rang up my order. When I asked about the gift card, she had to call over a manager, who looked at the sales circular. Since they didn't know what to do, they voided out the price of the diapers and rang it up for $5 less, thus my $5 "gift card" savings.

You've got to watch carefully or it might not be a great deal after all. Or a sale either.

Sweet Tea on 4/4/08, 12:06 PM said...

Kim, that's funny. When I bought my new computer, they were stumped by the in-store rebate. They had no idea how to ring it up and they kept giving me different prices as if I'd just accept one. After 2 hrs. & the mgr. making some calls, I got the price listed in the circular. Aggravating but worth the hassle and the lesson in staying calm. They were exhausted when I left.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but you had to spend TWO HOURS of your time to hold them to the offer they advertised.

If you're a professional making $50/hour, that's 100-DOLLARS of my time spent enforcing a contractual agreement. If I'm spending $100 of time to save $75 on a purchase price, then I am ultimately losing.

Haggling is always an option, but it shouldn't be a requirement for an advertised price.

Now - the one that gets ME is how I can go to my local Walmart and buy a 64-oz bottle of Juicy Juice for LESS than the 48-oz bottle. Not less per ounce - less for the UNIT.

There are all sorts of shenanigans that can take place if you aren't paying attention to the labels.

Rich on 4/7/08, 8:55 AM said...

@Paula Thank you. I don't know if it needs to be outlawed as much as companies need to realize consumers are sharing more information than ever before and I think you nail that with your point. :)

@Kim As much as consumers are communicating more, I think companies are communicating less. Sometimes it's as a simple as one hand not communicating with the other, until the other is forced to clean up the mess. In this case, the promotion wasn't clearly communicated with all management or the team.

@Jane and Ike Exactly right that companies might consider valuing the customer and their time. It's probably a price point issue created by a company that has adopted an ounce volume formula and applied it everywhere, never considering how it impacts everything else. One wonders sometimes. :)

These are great comments. I think the take away is that companies need to consider that consumers talk and if they are not talking with the company, they are perfectly content to talk with other consumers.



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