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In The Octagon: Retailers Battle Of The Price Match

Growing in popularity, price matching has become the norm however I see it truly mutating and it's only going to get worse [for margins] if you ask me. 

Times were when clipping coupons in the Sunday paper saved you a buck or two with some retailers offering double coupon days and Senior discount days [generally the day before the new ad was to be released] in order to clear old merchandise off the shelf.  For those of us struggling to budget with small children, double coupon days at Venture and Zayres was a boon and if there was a Blue Light Special on ham at Kmart, we were there.  That was the 70's and inflation was taking a bite out of our pocket.

Evolution slowly lead to price matching between retailers *if* you had a valid ad in hand and your checker called over the Manager for approval who would scrutinize every detail, glasses pulled down to the tip of his nose.  This alone guaranteed you a good 5-10 minute wait [mininum], usually with a runny-nosed whining child, impatient at your heels but if you were price matching Fisher Price toys, it was well worth the wait.  If a woman ahead of you was price matching, you rolled your eyes and beat feet for another lane.  That was the 80s/90s.  Jobs were plentiful and the economy was booming.

Fast forward to the 21st century and the post-credit crisis economy and general merchandisers are struggling.  Names such as JCPenney have struggled to adapt to the changing consumer and compete with discounters.  Target has rushed to compete with the Walmarts and Dollar Generals of the world, scrambling to revamp their store space with groceries and one almost can hear the return of Kmart's Blue Light Special off in the distance as they [and other general merchandisers] struggle to draw in the consumer. 

Today numerous grocers:

  • Double coupon values on a daily basis [up to a certain value]. 
  • They will also accept more than one coupon on a purchase [many up to four coupons per item].
  • Allow coupons to be combined [store coupon + manufacturers coupon]. 

Websites for "couponers" such as Coupons.com and  CouponDivas have grown with lightening speed alerting members to free offers, tutorials on how to become an extreme couponer as well as manufacturer coupons and rebates.  There are "coupon installers" online and women have become quite proficient printing multiple coupons and cutting major corners.  There are pages on Facebook for couponers and classes offered everywhere where women can learn how to "get it for free".

Even my own daughter has become a crazy couponer posting this on her FB page "I got all of these for free!".  Yes, it's viral and it's not going away.

I noticed that back from the dead this year were layaway programs and I'm curious to see how well they fared.  Wouldn't be a bit surprised to see this expand further at other retailers as long as growth [and paychecks] remain low. 

For certain, the new norm is virtual savings and online coupons which download to a shoppers "smart card" dangling on our key chains with retailers tracking purchases and tracking buying trends.  Gasoline savings based on dollars spent at Meijer, Tom Thumb and others, never seen by previous generations.  Restaurants have increased their discounting efforts offering buy one-get one free meals.  The savings frenzy continues to expand, all to entice to the consumer to keep spending.  

It's now commonplace to see women with a handful of ads in the checkout at Walmart price matching anything from chicken to diapers to sneakers.  They've evolved with the changing consumers pocketbook and strive to be your one-stop shopping place.

Today Target announced it will now price match online retailers such as Walmart and BestBuy in an effort to be a one-place shop and keep you in the store.  Certainly all others will quickly fall in step but what will this mean for margins?  Clearly they're adapting to the new, underemployed consumer but I have to wonder how far the rubberband can stretch? 

Raise your smart phone, snap a pic and price match your next car.  Liquor store price matching online Stoli?  Outstanding.  Need some bridgework?  Your Dentist will match online pricing.  Better yet, price match medical services and prescriptions?  Bring it. 

The overall message is some will adapt and survive in this low growth environment as the world continues to de-leverage and consumers struggle with low paying wages........and others will not.  I seriously believe it's going to become more difficult for many retailers margins before it improves.  Only one thing is for certain; announce 4x chip days at the casino and I'm there and I'm bringing friends.

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