Sunday Soapbox–Buy More and SAVE! (Or Not)


As retailers face increasing competition from online retailers, they get more and more sophisticated in trying to get you buy more while you’re in their building.   One thing you’ve probably noticed has increased dramatically in the last few years is multiple pricing, i.e.  “buy x for $$$$ and save!”

Years ago I remember we were creating an ad for our store (yes, in those days we actually wrote our own ads–picked the items, location in the ad and the prices!) and we had decided to run Top Ramen on the front page of the ad.   The price we had put down was 8 for $1.00, which was a great price even back then.   Our district manager came in and saw the ad and said “8 for $1.00?  How much is that for one?”   I could do the math in my head and come up with 12.5 cents, but he then said “We’re not here to teach our customers math.  Run it for 12 cents.”

This made great sense to me and has stuck with me ever since.  Now in most stores you’ll see a lot of items run 10/$10.00.   So the question is, since if you buy one they’re only going to charge you $1.00 anyway, are there really that many people that don’t know that and decide to buy 10?  I guess there must be, since they have all this down to a science but it seems amazing to me that people can’t figure out they don’t need to buy 10.   I wonder if they’ve tried the same item at 99¢ (since it’s a proven fact that an item with a “9” at the end sells way better than if you round it up to the next penny–69¢ sells a lot more than 70¢) and compared sales that way.

What drives me nuts is that where I work, they take it to the extreme sometimes.   I’ve seen multiple pricing like 3 for $5.97, 7 for $8.57, and so on.  I’m pretty good at math and even I can’t tell you if that’s a good price or not.   They also have a habit of running the same candy at the same price in different ways–for example Hershey’s Kisses during Easter will be 2 for $6 one week, 3 for $9 the next, then $2.99 and maybe even a 4 for $12 thrown in.   That bag of Kisses is going to cost you $3 no matter which way you slice it.   Why make it so complicated?

One retailer that also takes it to the extreme is Vons.  They have LOTS of items where the tag will say in BIG numbers “$2.99 with Vons Card!!” but the smaller print underneath will say “When you buy 14.  Otherwise we’re screwing you and charging you $3.99.”  (Well, it doesn’t exactly say that, but that would be truth in advertising…)   They also love to do  “Buy 10 of these selected items and save 30%!” and you can mix and match items from several different aisles in the store, say 3 Gatorades, 3 Lays Chips, 2 Crisco Oils and 2 boxes of suppositories.   Sorry Vons, but I really don’t want to keep a running tally of how many items I’m buying while I shop.   And oh, I’m also not falling for your “Coupons for You!” where you can send personalized coupons to your card at checkout.   I think they pick the items that they just raised the price 20¢ and then send you a 10¢ coupon on it.

Attention retailers–Keep it Simple, Stupid.  Just put a price on it and we’ll decide how many we need.   That is all.

Here’s a great Lifehacker article which talks more about unit pricing labels and how they get you to spend more.