Bargain Fever: The War Between Shoppers and Sellers
Discounts are no longer the exception, they're the norm. But is that bargain really a bargain?
Paying full price is so passé. A quarter of the population will only open their wallets if something is on sale. Everyone wants a deal, a steal, a hookup with a discount or a way to cut costs. People don't only want a deep discount, they expect it and won't settle for anything less.
They're lucky, then, that almost half of everything sold in America is listed at some kind of promotional price. It's a seismic shift that has made shoppers more savvy than ever, generating phenomena like extreme couponing, flash sales, and Groupon.
So there's never been a better time to be a buyer, right? Perhaps. Sellers have developed their own tricks to protect profit margins amid such markdown mania—ones that include secret sales, shifting prices, and shredding perfectly good clothes.
In this playful, deeply researched book, journalist Mark Ellwood takes a trip into this new landscape. He shows how some people are, quite literally, born to be bargain junkies thanks to a quirk of their DNA, and uncovers the sales-driven sleights of hand that sellers employ to hoodwink unsuspecting buyers.
Ellwood takes us from the floor of upscale department store Bergdorf Goodman to the bustling aisles of a Turkish bazaar, from the outlet Disney world of rural Pennsylvania to a town in Florida that can claim to be couponing's spiritual capital. We meet savvy buyers trying to wring value from every cent—stalking fashion editors' tweets to learn about sample sales or camping out overnight for a cut-price computer.
Ellwood also uncovers the dark side of discounting: how organized crime steals coupons en masse and how certain boutiques limit discounts to VIPs, running secret sticker promotions from which the ordinary shopper is excluded.
Bargain Fever is a manual for thriving in this new era, when deal hunting has gone from being a sign of indigence to one of intelligence. There's never been a better time to be a buyer—at least if you know how the game works.
are in April and November, one notes, triggering sneaker markdowns. Fall prices are usually lower, it adds, to clear stock faster and make way for incoming winter boots. Who will be the first to identify the anti–Black Friday, the day to avoid the mall at all costs, when discounts are at their year-round scarcest. Perhaps they can call it Blue Monday? (Deal site data points to early October as a clear candidate for that dubious honor.) There’s one caveat, though: With great deal-making power
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swapping out a few SKUs and introducing a discount product alongside the premium detergent. After a few weeks, Edwina’s number whispering paid off: Total laundry soap sales climbed 16 percent, while Tide increased 4 percent. Kroger was able to please price-conscious customers, while buffing the pride of those who opted for a more premium product. Americans, it seems, are just as susceptible to Dunn-Humby’s retail voodoo. The discountmania that dominates shopping in the twenty-first century
forlorn fiberglass mannequins still sported molded hair, their built-in berets emblazoned with Communist-approved stars. It wasn’t unusual to see locals nip to the corner store in pajamas, either, a quirk of the city that made Beijingers, long rivals, laugh. Just a handful of skyscrapers marked the new development area, Pudong, across the water. The ritzy Portman hotel seemed like the only easy place for a Western-style breakfast of coffee and a muffin, but both tasted as if made by someone whose
strategy, handily reference pointing those bargains even lower, but one that few American operators would allow. “When Bose started, they wanted to have a demo room here. They didn’t care about selling so much—just for people to learn about them here and then go back to Tokyo to pay full price,” Okuma recalls. The store was retrofitted to sell a few items, but it’s still as much showcase as shop, with little marked down. For instance, the brand’s signature headphones are just discounted 5