Some Retailers Try Simplified Pricing

The Wall Street Journal: “Retailers have a gift for discount-obsessed holiday shoppers: simpler pricing … Kohl’s has been testing a ‘Your Price’ feature that shows the final price after all discounts … For example, a Disney Princess Palace, regularly priced at $79.99, was on sale on Kohl’s website earlier this month for $54.99 and eligible for an extra 25% off. The “Your Price” was $41.24.”

“Like Kohl’s, Penney this year started showing online shoppers the sale price net of all discounts on the product page and increasingly has been advertising sales with final dollar amounts, rather than percentage discounts … The retailer also has been posting ‘sale conversion charts,’ intended to help shoppers figure out prices … Christine Dunne, of the Bronx, N.Y., said she noticed the changes at the Penney store near her home.” She comments: “It makes shopping so much easier. In the past, I’d get to the register and realize the price I’d calculated in my head was wrong.”

“Not all retailers have simplified their pricing, and marketing experts say that is by design. ‘Multiple mental deductions based on promotions can result in consumers perceiving that their costs are lower than they actually are, which can increase spending,’ said Cynthia Cryder, an associate professor of marketing at Washington University in St. Louis.”

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Toblerone & Trademark Triangulation

The New York Times: “When the makers of the distinctive Swiss confection Toblerone reconfigured their triangular treat last year to slim down its hallmark summits and widen the valleys between them, a potential rival — Britain’s Poundland discount chain — saw a niche in the market … while the classic Toblerone bars had become lighter in weight in the reconfiguring — though their price remained the same — Poundland’s bar would be chunkier and cheaper, at one pound, or about $1.35, each.”

“Not, of course, that this was some crude copycat. If, as some contend, Toblerone was modeled on the soaring pyramid of a mountain — the Matterhorn on the Italian-Swiss border, which is about 14,690 feet high — Poundland’s bar was said to have been inspired by two less vertiginous hills in the English county of Shropshire near the border with Wales — the Ercall, at 460 feet, and the Wrekin, at 1,335 feet. Hence the shape of the Poundland bar, with a double set of summits between each valley. And hence its name: Twin Peaks, with what Poundland called ‘a distinctive British flavor compared to Toblerone’s Swiss chocolate nougat’.”

After some legal wrangling, Poundland “was permitted to begin selling in its nearly 900 stores the 500,000 bars already in production — provided it changed the background color of their wrappers from gold to blue. And the lettering was changed: to gold, from the original red. Once the initial 500,000 bars have been sold, Poundland said in a news release, it will ‘revise the shape’ so that the bar ‘better represents the outline of the Wrekin and Ercall hills’.”

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AC Store: The World’s Priciest Grocery?

Boing-Boing: “Barrow, Alaska (pop. 4,335) sits on the northernmost tip of the state. Because of its remote location, groceries are expensive — really expensive … A bag of Tostitos tortilla chips here are ‘on sale’ for $10.74. A single roll of toilet paper is $2.60. A box of Froot Loops is $9.73 …”

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Dollar General & Rural Retail: Ka-Ching!

The Wall Street Journal: “Dollar General is expanding because rural America is struggling. With its convenient locations for frugal shoppers, it has become one of the most profitable retailers in the U.S. and a lifeline for lower-income customers bypassed by other major chains.Dollar General Corp.’s 14,000 stores yielded more than double the profit of Macy’s Inc. on less revenue during its most recent fiscal year. And its $22 billion market value eclipses the largest U.S. grocery chain, Kroger Co., which has five times the revenue.”

“While many large retailers are closing locations, Dollar General executives said they planned to build thousands more stores, mostly in small communities that have otherwise shown few signs of the U.S. economic recovery … This lower-end market is better protected from Amazon and competitors that target wealthier shoppers.”

“For decades, Dollar General prices have been marked in 5-cent increments, making it easier for shoppers to estimate the total price of their purchases … Many popular brands are packaged in small quantities to keep prices under $10—generally yielding higher profits per item than bulk goods at such warehouse chains as Costco … The founders of Dollar General lived in small-town Kentucky and started the company there in 1955, making the store’s rural locations a natural fit. When Wal-Mart Stores Inc. grew past 3,000 stores in the early 2000s, a strategy surfaced: ‘We went where they ain’t,’ said David Perdue, Dollar General’s chief executive from 2003 to 2007.”

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How CVS & Aetna Could Change Healthcare

Business Insider: “CVS Pharmacy’s $69 billion deal to acquire the health insurer Aetna — the second-biggest deal of the year — is different. It could actually make treatment simpler and easier for Americans, and it catches a bunch of trends in the market that push costs down. There are two big streamlining ideas at work here. First … Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) are the gatekeepers between insurers and a patient’s medical treatment, and CVS already has one. Ideally it ensures that the PBM is incentivized to keep costs for the insurer as low as possible.”

“For the most part, though, this doesn’t fundamentally change Americans’ experience when they get sick. PBMs are faceless entities, and insurance is a foreign language to a lot of people. This is where the second streamlining idea in this CVS acquisition comes into play … the company will be ‘promoting lower-cost sites of care’ after this acquisition. That means turning brick-and-mortar stores into treatment centers and hiring medical staff. That’s expensive, but it will keep sick people out of more expensive hospitals, which keeps costs down for insurers and ultimately customers.”

“And unlike a lot of new urgent-care facilities hitting the market to do this very thing (keep people out of hospitals), CVS comes with a ton of brand familiarity. Plus, quarter after quarter CVS has seen that its other businesses are outperforming sales in its retail channel. Turning brick-and-mortar stores into healthcare facilities is one way to make good use of them.”

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Black Friday Tricks of the Trade

The Wall Street Journal: “Instead of copying Amazon.com Inc.’s playbook, retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. are coming up with new tricks to maximize sales ahead of Black Friday … In the months leading up to the holiday, Target has shifted away from ‘up and down’ pricing moves, streamlining the number of promotions to focus only on ‘impactful’ sales … The company has also reduced the phrases it uses for discounts from 28 last year to seven, dropping language like ‘weekly wow’ and ‘as advertised’ … It is also offering extra incentives to its loyalty card holders, such as early access to Black Friday promotions.”

“Wal-Mart, which has long emphasized an ‘everyday low price’ message, has been experimenting with a new online system, which at times results in higher prices online than in stores for goods that would otherwise be unprofitable to ship. Some product listings on its website now indicate an ‘online’ and ‘in the store’ price … The Bentonville, Ark., retailer said it would sell more exclusive products this holiday as compared with last year.”

“For the first time, Best Buy Co. offered hundreds of Black Friday deals on TVs and other devices in early November in hopes of driving sales before the competition heats up. The electronics giant has a price-matching guarantee, but the offer doesn’t apply to items on sale Thanksgiving through Monday.”

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Gucci Gobble: The $300 Turkey

The Wall Street Journal: “When it comes to this year’s holiday bird, New Yorkers aren’t afraid to break out their wallets. A number of gourmet markets and high-end butchers throughout the city are selling specialty turkeys for Thanksgiving that run $200-$300-plus. And in most cases, that doesn’t include sides. At Eli’s Market on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, options start at $6 per pound for a free-range, all-natural turkey, but can go as high as $11 a pound for a ‘heritage’ breed variety.”

“Purveyors of these pricey birds say they have no problem finding customers. Le Coq Rico, a restaurant in Manhattan’s Flatiron District that specializes in poultry, says it has sold out of its allotment of heritage turkeys for to-go orders, priced at $280 each with sides. The restaurant is offering a variety sourced from a Kansas farm, where, according to Le Coq Rico manager Patricia Grunler Westermann, the birds have plenty of pasture to explore. The result, she says, is one tasty turkey. ‘You really feel how they live’ with every mouthful, she said.”

“Still, some food experts remain skeptical, noting that turkey isn’t very flavorful—no matter where it is sourced or how it is raised. Hence, the reason the Thanksgiving meal is so much about the side dishes. ‘Unless a turkey can get up, turn on the oven and put itself in the roasting pan, it is rarely worth much more than a dollar a pound,’ said Allen Salkin, a New York-based food writer.”

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Tiffany’s & The ‘Tin Can’ Gambit

The New York Times: “Since joining Tiffany & Co. in January as chief artistic officer, Reed Krakoff has undertaken to freshen the image of the 180-year-old jewelry company. His first major footprint is on the fourth-floor home and accessories floor of Tiffany’s Fifth Avenue flagship, where the sacred and the profane are now commingling cheerfully … Which is how the world came to know the Tiffany Tin Can (actually sterling silver and vermeil, $1,000) … (‘When panhandling before the big riot, don’t be caught without this stunning $1,000 tin can from Tiffany’s.’)”

“Mr. Krakoff’s injection of levity is not an unwelcome twist on the usual gilded or silvered theme … Old luxury: Founder’s portrait. New luxury: Founder’s portrait in Sheetrock screws and plywood … Tiffany’s entry-level dog bowls read, merely, ‘dog.’ — bone china, $125 for a small version and $175 for a large — but on display is a sterling silver option that Joan Rivers had engraved for her dog, Spike, for those inspired to go bigger ($1,800 for a small version, $2,500 for a large) … Not recommended for cat play: Tiffany’s sterling silver ball of yarn, $9,000.”

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V8 & Mr Peanut: Iconic Brands No More?

YouGov BrandIndex: “Two of the most well-known legacy supermarket products — V8 Vegetable Juice and Planters Peanuts — show significant declines in multiple consumer perception metrics over the long-term … From 2013 through the present, both of these brands have suffered their own distinct issues, and one big shared one: millennials.”

“Both V8 and Planters Peanuts are seeing their levels steadily eroding over the past four years, almost entirely brought down by millennials. 94% of all consumers were aware of V8 in January 2013, slipping down to its current 85%. Planters took a steeper drop of 17 percentage points, dropping from 95% down to 78% over the same time period … Millennials change the picture entirely, especially for Planters Peanuts: V8 is down 14 percentage points (from 86% awareness to 72%) with the younger crowd, and Planters Peanuts sees a 32 percentage point fall (from 83% awareness to 51%).”

“V8’s Value and Quality perception with overall consumers has also been falling steadily since 2013. Except in this case, instead of millennials, adults 50 and over dominate the growing negative numbers behind these two metrics, perhaps having been priced out of purchasing the vegetable juice. Consequently, Purchase Consideration by boomers of V8 has declined as well: the juice went from 43% of adults 50 and over considering buying V8 the next time they were purchasing a beverage to 33% now.”

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Gucci Cracks The Millennial Code

The Wall Street Journal: “Classic brands often blame millennials for sales downturns, but the younger generation is giving Gucci a sensational boost. This could assure the luxury goods maker years of growth, or leave it grumbling like everyone else about that fickle group … Gucci’s success comes from a new look under creative director Alessandro Michele … It draws eclectically on a wide range of colors, patterns and periods, often in the same garment. It could hardly be further removed from the classic, business-friendly vibe favored by previous top designer Frida Giannini.”

“Millennial luxury consumers value experimentation and self-expression more than their seniors … Mr. Michele seems to have hit on a brand identity that reflects this spirit. Gucci has done a good job getting the word out: The brand is very active on the digital media millennials grew up with. Last year Gucci moved to top place in research company L2’s Digital IQ index, replacing longtime leader Burberry.”

“Resonating with the consumers of the future is something many brands aspire to. There is just one snag: As big consumer groups have discovered, experimental consumers make more fickle consumers.”

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