A WalletHub survey published this week found that jewelry was the most the most heavily discounted category on Black Friday this year, as it was last year. The averaged (advertised) discount: 76 percent, up from last year’s 58 percent.
But let’s consider what kind of message this sends. If these items are now sold for 70 percent off, does that mean they are ordinarily 70 percent too expensive?
These pricing strategies “undermine the true value of a piece of jewelry,” says Charles Stanley, president of Forevermark USA.
This has been going on for years, of course, although lately it seems to be happening more with jewelry than other items, in part because jewelry doesn’t have an obvious reference price. It’s easy to check if you are getting 30 percent off your iPad. But jewelry is much harder to comparison shop.
At worst, these tactics mislead consumers, as they are based on reference prices that don’t exist, and a few retailers have faced class-action suits because of them. But even assuming all is on the level, they also raise consumer expectations to a degree that can’t be sustained long-term.
Take, for example, Jos. A. Bank. Its buy one, get three suits free promotions became so notorious that they were parodied on Saturday Night Live. So, new owner Men’s Wearhouse ended them. As a result, sales sank 15 percent in the last quarter. A similar chain of events played out at J.C. Penney when former CEO Ron Johnson eliminated discounts.
Lately, we have seen department stores such as Macy’s and Saks Fifth Avenue open outlets and off-price stores. But Marc Cohen, director of retail studies at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business, tells Retail Dive that these brand extensions increase pressure on stores to boost theiir already heavy promotion schedule:
“I cannot almost imagine buying something at full price at Macy’s anymore. How does Saks expect most of their affluent customers to pay regular price when any day of the week they can get a deal?” Cohen said.
Retail expert Robin Lewis warns this could turn all retailers into Jos. A. Bank:
Over time as their discount stores outnumber their full-price stores (which is already the case for some retailers), consumers will perceive the flagship brand and the discount store brand to be one and the same.
There is now going to be no end to discounting because all the players must dance as long as the music is playing. And it will ultimately drag everything down with it, including brand image, potentially quality, and essentially the value of all things.
And if that is true for retail in general, consider how true it is for jewelry, the most heavily discounted category of them all.