Big Grocery is watching you
Individualized coupons and deals are a new grocery trend. Is targeted marketing unfair?
Some personal finance bloggers have called this practice unfair and discriminatory. I respectfully disagree. Targeted deals are just another form of marketing -- and actually, they're nothing new.
Ever hear of a "catalina"? It prints out at the register, usually triggered by something you just bought. Generally it's a manufacturer's coupon, but sometimes it's a discount for your next visit.
You can't get it unless you buy a certain product or return to the retailer. Now that's targeted.
It's completely legal
Online shopping is even more customer-specific. Everything from the time of year you buy to the type of computer you use can affect the price you pay.
According to the Smart Money blog, travelers who use Apple computers will be shown more expensive travel offers than those who use Windows, "as the former typically spend 30% more."
(Not necessarily, though. I use a 3-year-old MacBook but I use buddy passes and ride the Megabus.)
Retailers may shape prices based on location -- those who live close to a company warehouse might get offered free shipping. That's an inexpensive way to boost the chance you'll bite. (Post continues after video.)
Even the season can make a difference. The snow boots you buy in June from San Diego might not cost as much as footwear ordered in late October out of Quinhagak, Alaska.
Incidentally, it's not illegal to sculpt prices as long as the differences aren't based on race, sex or religion.
But is it discriminatory?
Blogger "vh" at Funny About Money has half a dozen concerns about consumer-specific pricing. One of them is that targeted deals "lure you to buy products you don't really need."
But that's what stores do all the time. It's called "marketing." Consumers need to protect themselves against ersatz "deals."
"Flexo," founder of Consumerism Commentary, thinks that targeted discounts are a form of "price discrimination." The blogger also cites warehouse clubs, coupon clipping, loyalty-card discounts, and high prices in city versus suburban markets as discriminatory.
But targeted marketing takes it to a new level: "Rather than just a store-to-store or neighborhood-to-neighborhood difference in price, this discrimination can happen within the same store."
Let the buyer beware
Savvy consumers are always trying to stretch a dollar. For example:
- Shoppers who leave items in their virtual carts may get emailed coupons from merchants anxious to make the sale.
- You should rarely, if ever, pay for shipping.
- If you're charged a late-payment fee, asking the right way might get it refunded.
- Complaining about bad service can yield good results, if you know how to do it.
Is any of that "fair"?
Bottom line: You're not automatically going to get the best price. It's up to you to look for it.
It's also up to you whether to be a part of loyalty-card marketing. But don't fault the stores for wanting to stay in business. All's fair in love and shopping.
More on MSN Money:
This isn't news! They've been doing this for years.
How about catching up to modern times and current events Donna Freedman??
One thing about this is the author is only looking at the 'positive' aspects of this practice.
But what about the sinister. Lets say you buy a certain product, say a named cheese every week. They know you're going to buy that product every week. So then the store doesn't clearly list their discounts for their loyalty cards and instead of giving you the full $0.50 off on the product, they cut your coupon to $0.25 cents and pocket the other $0.25 from the Vendor.
Then subject B who doesn't buy that cheese every week gets the full coupon discounted price of $0.50 off that same cheese because they are trying to encourage him to buy more of it.
That's discriminatory pricing, and should be flat out illegal, but according to the author's logic it's completely fair game.
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