Retail Shopping

by Jona E. Kessans


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In addition to running my regular consulting business, I also work part-time as an Ad Set Supervisor for a national retail store. During this time, I have learned many of the ins and outs of the retail business and how to get the most bang for my buying dollar. If you follow these same ten tips, I guarantee that you too will save more money. Following are ten of the best inside tips I've learned about the retail world since becoming part of it.

1. How to Get the Best Clearance Price in Stores

In most retail stores, clearance is marked down at the beginning of the month. And for stores that use the tiered clearance system, where items fall in price as the month progresses, you will find that the best time to get the lowest price for a clearance item is toward the end of the month.

2. Yellow Tag, Red Tag Clearance Method - When the Best Price Isn't Always the Final Clearance Price

Stores that use the yellow tag to red tag clearance method also use a tiered system to incrementally mark down items on clearance. Generally, items are placed on clearance at the beginning of the month and will be gradually marked down as the month progresses. Any remaining yellow-ticketed items are then red ticketed for final clearance at the beginning of the following month. Because this system is percentage based, when the yellow-ticketed price drops to its lowest percentage off (usually 50% off the yellow-ticketed clearance price), this is the best item to buy. This way you can save as much as 80% off the regular price of an item. However, if you wait until the same item is red-ticketed for final clearance, you will pay a higher price and only receive about 50-60% off the regular price. This is a clearance strategy used by many major retailers.

3. Too Early/Too Late For a Great Sale? Not Anymore

Most retail stores have an unpublished policy that allows customers to receive the sale price for an item either a day before or a day after the begin and end dates of an advertised sale. You just have to ask to receive the sale price.

4. Price Adjustment? Too Late, Not Necessarily

Most retailers have a published policy allowing customers a specific timeframe to receive price adjustments and an unpublished policy that actually extends this timeframe anywhere from 7 to 14 days. Even if you are outside the official timeframe for a price change, make the request, as most stores will honor the adjustment based on the unpublished policy and because they won't risk losing a customer.

5. Buy One, Get One Free and Buy One, Get One 1/2 Off Sales (BOGO) - Great for the Retailer, Bad for the Customer

The national retail store I work at part-time as Ad-Set Supervisor usually has a Buy One, Get One Free and Buy One, Get One 1/2 Off Sale, also know as BOGOs, twice every sale cycle (12 weeks). It always amazes me how many people flock to the store for these sales because in the retail industry, these are known to be one of the worst sales for customers. How? By breaking the numbers down, one can quickly see just what I mean. Let's say you need a pair of jeans and find that there is a BOGO sale at your favorite store offering you 1/2 off the second purchase. If you paid $20 for the first pair and $10 for the second pair (since it was 1/2 off), your total purchase amount on two pairs of jeans is $30, with an overall savings of $10 or 25%. But more than likely, these same jeans usually go on sale for 30 to 40% off during one of the store's regular sale events. That means if you had purchased these same jeans during a regular 30% off sale, you would have paid $14 per pair or $28 for two pairs for a savings of $12, or 30% off, saving you an additional $2 than the BOGO Sale. At 40% off, you would have paid $12 per pair or $24 for two pairs, or 40% off saving you an additional $6 than the BOGO Sale.

Buy One, Get One Free Sales are only good if you plan on purchasing two of the same items anyway. Otherwise, they force customers to purchase more than they had planned, causing them to bring home two items when they only wanted one of in the first place. A way around this dilemma is to shop with a friend or relative who intends to purchase the same type of item that you are going to purchase. Stores love these sales because it is a way of getting customers to spend more money, reduce store inventory quicker, and increase sales figures.

6. Shopping Day Savings Passes, Just Ask

Several national retail stores offer Shopping Day Savings Passes, which are coupons that offer the customer anywhere from 10-20% off every purchase made throughout that day. These "savings passes" are available at customer service desks. All you need to do is ask. One large retailer that offers these passes is Macys.

7. Those People with the Scanners - They Know More Than You Think

Ever go into a store and see some of the associates with a scanner scanning items? Well, more than likely, those are "Ad Setters" that are responsible for placing sale signs for upcoming sale events. Almost every store has an Ad Set Crew. Some stores have the Ad Set Crew set ads for upcoming sales after store closing. Most, however, have the Crew start setting ads a few hours prior to closing. Shop during these hours and seek these people out. Why? They are the most knowledgeable about what store sales are the best for customers and when these sales are going to occur since they know about upcoming sales weeks in advance. If you are wondering if an item you are interested in purchasing is cheaper during the current sale or cheaper during an upcoming sale, they can usually scan it and tell you. I have helped countless customers save this way and then proceeded to tell them about the day prior, day later rule covered in tip number three. Most regular sales associates don't have this inside information about upcoming sales, nor do they have the ability to find out what upcoming sales prices are going to be on items. That's why you need to speak to an Ad Setter.

8. Imperfections = Discounts, Even Packaging

Everyone probably knows about getting an additional discount on imperfect merchandise, but many don't know that imperfect packaging gets the same discounts. The store I work at, like most stores, has a policy that allows at least an additional 10-20% discount on damaged items. Even if the only damage is to an item's packaging, we gladly give this discount when someone asks. As a result, I have learned to purposefully seek out items that have damaged packaging and to always ask for this extra discount. To date, I have always received it. Being willing to purchase items with damaged packaging creates a win-win situation for both customers and the store. The store gets rid of slightly blemished items and customers save money.

9. Forgot Your Extra Savings Coupon - No Problem, Just Tell the Cashier

Many stores send out extra savings coupons to holders of their credit cards or loyal customers on their mailing list. Sometimes, however, customers get to the register only to realize that they forgot to bring their "Extra Savings Coupon" with them. If this happens to you, no problem, since most stores have a policy granting the discount to the customer anyway just by telling the cashier that you forgot your savings coupon.

10. The Clearance Merry-Go-Round

Most stores have what is called "back stock." This usually refers to clearance items that have not sold during the previous season's clearance sales. These items are placed in a designated area in the stockroom and then brought back out onto the sales floor during a store's next seasonal clearance event. For example, January and February are two good months to find last season's bathing suits on clearance in many stores. May and June are good times to find heavy coats and leather jackets at rock-bottom prices. I know our store does this routinely, and have found this to be true for several other major retailers as well.

I hope you are able to save tons of money as I have by using these ten tips. Prior to working in retail, I would have considered myself a frugal and smart shopper but have since become even better and saved more. By learning the ins-and-outs of the retail world and by using these tips, I now pay less for brand-new, brand-name clothing, shoes, accessories, and home goods than I had previously paid at thrift stores and I hope you do too. Happy Shopping and Saving!


Jona is an instructional designer, web and graphic designer, and technical and business writer. Copyright Jona E. Kessans. All rights reserved.

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