Today we went to a local sears store to pick up some bed sheets that we saw in their weekend flyer. Now I think I’m fairly bright and I think I’m pretty observant, but I’ve never been so fed up with in-store advertising as today.

The online flyer said Twin Sheets 14.99, Double and Queen also on sale.

We get to the store and many different shelves of sheets are on sale for only this weekend. The one shelf of sheets listed in the flyer are all of course missing ‘original’ price tags, so comparing the sale price to the original is impossible. The big sign says 14.99. Underneath in small letters says the ‘Double and Queen also on sale’, so you at first assume without reading the fine print that the whole shelf is $14.99. We then learn at the register that queen size (which we needed) is actually $29.99, and according to the sales person this price is the normal price. First lie in the advertising. No sale price as suggested.

To add to the confusion are the randomly placed “30% off” “40% off” “50% off” signs on other types of bedding. Here’s how these worked. Product ‘A’, which is 50% off would be something like “Home Essentials” in big font and  “Egyptian Microfiber Cotton 300 Thread Count” in small font. On the same shelf and mixed in would be Product ‘B’, which has the same packaging and logo and which says “Home Essentials” in large font and “ Egyptian Cotton 300 Thread Count” in small font and that product wouldn’t count for the sale. If you didn’t read it correctly, you’d be grabbing the wrong product.

Even more confusing would be that some products would have a marked down price on them already and be under a sale sign. So you have to do the math to see if the marked price is the sale price or not.

Sears is also behind in terms of self-help customer service. I’m happy to, in other department stores, find a self-scanner and check the price myself. Sears doesn’t have this technology, and if you want to find out how much something is (since there is no price on some products, or you don’t know if the sale includes this product) you have to stand in line at the cash register and ask once you get up to the front. And since each department is pretty much independent (i tried price checking in the lingerie dept, but they couldn’t find the price on my items), you must wait in that line.

So here is what I see Sears doing.

1. Confusion tactics. Since most of their clientele today, I noticed, were seniors, trying to figure out which products were on sale would be a challenge. Grabbing a $75 product and trying to decide if it was included in the discount may push people to just accept the $75 product. Putting a ‘Sale on 320 Thread Count’ beside a large shelf of 300 thread count could cause people to grab the wrong one. Which brings me to number 2.

2. Impatience tactics. When you can’t figure out a price and there is no one to help on the floor, you take the only available option and get in line at the department’s register. Since speed isn’t a requirement for Sears, a 4 person line can take more than 10 minutes if there is only one cashier working (as it is on sundays it seems). So a person, already flustered with trying to find what sheets are on sale, gets in line, has to wait 10 minutes just to find out that the sheet they picked isn’t on sale, will more likely buy the sheet for the extra $15 than go back and try to find the right one. People are impatient and the thought of going back then having to wait in line again is not something they’ll do.

3. Understaffed tactics. If you can’t find someone to ask a question, except at the till, people take it on themselves to figure it out. This then results in my #1 above.

Since their clientele seemed to be mostly seniors, these tactics would work well on them. Well played sears.

The easiest thing to do would be to walk away. But if you’ve come that distance just for that product, most people wouldn’t just leave. They’d take what they could even if it was more than they wanted.

We found one good deal on sheets (came in wanting two), took it and left, vowing we’d get sheets somewhere else and probably never shop at that Sears again.


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