Retailers Sew Themselves Into A Corner

searchAfter all the promotions, sales and buy-1-get-3-free ads, retailers, like Jos. A. Bank, have to put their focus back on the brand.

In today’s media marketplace, whether in-store, online, TV or in print, retailers continuously convey a constant barrage of synonyms associated with “sale”, from “Doorbusters,” and “Black Friday Now,” to promises of eternal shopping bliss with, “Lowest prices ever.”

But if chain retailers only offer deep discounts, consumers can only conclude that their usual prices are too high and will only shop when there’s a sale on. Makes sense, right?

Then how, after so many years of behavioral conditioning, training consumers to expect and only expect deep discounts does a retailer hope to turn their bottom line around?

This is precisely the conundrum Jos. A. Bank’s new owner Men’s Wearhouse finds itself in after acquiring Jos. A. Bank in June 2014 and cutting away their all-too-well-known, buy-one-get-three-free promotions this past October.

As the BBJ reported last week, Men’s Wearhouse stock took a beating, down 44 percent on Nov. 6 due to weak Jos. A. Bank sales and projects a 20 percent to 25 percent drop in the fourth quarter.

It’s the same corner J.C. Penney sewed themselves into in 2012 after then-CEO Ron Johnson removed the coupons from mine, and every other Penney shopper’s email inbox. If you bought tennis shoes for $39.99 on Friday, are you going to buy another pair for $69.99 on Monday?

What’s lacking in this recycled, clearance bin of newspaper circulars is any hint of branding — what a store stands for.

On a recent stroll through Towson Town Center, I passed by numerous retailers all with large, colorful signs in their windows with giant fonts touting 30 and 40 percent off. Peaking past the sale signage, their floors were empty of customers. Yet the wide open doors and translucent glass windows at Apple, on the other hand, were sans signage. Indeed all one could see were hoards of customers conversing at the Genius Bar and toying with the gizmos on display. It looked more like a party, than anything else.

That atmosphere and not any plastered-on posters offering “sales” is what’s led Apple to be the first U.S. company to be valued at over $700 billion and the world’s most valuable brand, according to Interbrand.

So what’s a retailer to do once the thread begins to unravel and sales are the only way they think they can mend and lure customers into their shops?

Rather than sending mixed messages to your consumers, with on-again, off-again sales — make a choice and commit to it.

Take Walmart, clearly known for low prices. But it has also branded that reputation with a focus on their audience, exemplified by their tagline, “Save money, live better.” By turning saving money into a causal relationship with living better, Walmart has a position with a purpose. It stands for something.

So, Mr. and Mrs. Retailer, lost in the aisles and can’t find your way out? Stop and stand for something.


Abe Novick, a Baltimore communications consultant and writer, can be reached at


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