JCPenney’s new ‘Fair and square’ pricing addresses bargain-seeking burnout

“Noooooo!” This month JCPenney introduced its new “Fair and square” pricing policy by playing off the idea that keeping up with sales and special offers is stress-inducing in the extreme. Various shoppers scream when they’ve just missed a sale, an item they’ve bought subsequently gets discounted, they’re stuck in a huge sales-event line or they’re overwhelmed with coupons. “Enough. Is. Enough,” viewers are told cryptically, then referred to the retailer’s Facebook page, which explains the new “Fair and square” pricing policy.

The spot’s screaming has been deemed “annoying and disturbing” by some, but the real question is whether “Fair and square” will draw shoppers who prefer straightforward pricing to the highs (and lows) of scoring deals. The new policy, based on a red, white and blue scheme, incorporates some discounting: Red prices indicate “great prices, everyday,” blue refers to “best prices” (clearance markdowns that take place two Fridays a month), and white indicates a month-long promotion (e.g., back-to-school specials). The aim is to end what new chief executive Ron Johnson termed “fake prices,” telling The New York Times last month that “Now most things are on 60 percent markdown, and every time we do that, we’re discounting Penney’s brand.”

Reactions have been mixed. A pricing strategy consultant writes on the Harvard Business Review blog that the retailer isn’t differentiated enough to succeed with value pricing, while an enthusiastic commenter who describes herself as a busy mom says she’s gotten “darn tired” of the pricing game. The downturn has not only trained many shoppers to find or wait for the best deals but also to understand fake prices for what they are. The time seems right for a more straightforward approach that acknowledges consumers are smart enough to see through the hype.

Photo Credit: www.facebook.com/jcp

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