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Discount shoppers rejoice! Penney's in sales surrender

A sign displays a new pricing stategy at a JCPenney store in the North Riverside Park Mall in North Riverside, Ill.

I found Bonnie Fisher browsing the clearance racks at a J. C. Penney near Baltimore, Md. She remembers when Penney rolled back most of its sales a year ago.

“I used to get lots of coupons all the time,” she says. “I was all excited to come in the store with my coupons, and since I haven’t been getting them I haven’t been here in a long time.”

Penney says it isn’t bringing back coupons. But as of this week, it will revive some of the hundreds of sales it killed off last year. The company tried to break the cycle of marking prices up only to keep knocking them down. Instead, it promised low prices every day. Shoppers stayed home.

Penney was right to try, says Paco Underhill, CEO of consumer behavior research firm Envirosell. “Sales are a little like heroin, meaning that the more you use it, the less effective it becomes.”

But once you train your customers to expect sales, it’s hard to retrain them. And the J.C. Penney shopper was well-trained, says Candace Corlett with WSL Strategic Retail.

“Part of the pleasure she gets out of J.C. Penney is the reward of great deals,” Corlett says.

Shopper Bonnie Fisher picked up several shirts for $2 a piece. “It’s not because the shirts were $2,” she says. “They could’ve been $10, but if they had a big sale sign and they used to be $50 you just feel like you’re getting a deal.”

Penney will try another tactic to give shoppers the impression of savings. Starting today, it’ll post the manufacturer’s suggested price next to Penney’s price on more tags so customers can get that bargain feeling.

So, now it's your turn. Are you a bargain hunter? Are you allergic to full price? Tell us your thoughts about sales in stores -- how much of a discount makes you seriously consider buying?

About the author

Amy Scott is Marketplace’s education correspondent covering the K-12 and higher education beats, as well as general business and economic stories.
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