When Nobody Pays Full Price, How Much Are You Really Saving?

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In the first half of 2010, consumers used online and downloadable coupons to save $57.4 million on purchases. That sounds like a lot of money, especially because the number doesn’t even factor in the use of traditional coupons found in newspapers and Sunday circulars. But in a world where the only people paying full price are an increasingly small number of lazy, uninformed, or can’t-be-bothered consumers, it’s more difficult than ever to figure out if and when you’re getting good value.

The $57 million figure comes from RetailMeNot data (hat tip to MediaPost), which also shows that online coupon traffic rose 49% from 2009 to 2010. Retailers are well aware of this shift in consumer behavior, and all consumers can be assured that a mishmash of marketing strategies—raise retail prices here, up the ante on discount promos there—are aimed a achieving two goals: making the customer feel like he’s getting a deal, and making a profit. Retailers are thereby able to reach the short-term goal (profit right away) and a longer-term one as well (obliviously happy customers who are likely to give the company profits down the line).

By utilizing so-called anchoring price strategies, retailers get to attract customers with “amazing” 50% off deals while still earning money on sales of items half off the retail price that few people ever pay.

The proliferation of coupons and discounts has reached such a saturation point that it’s unclear if and when you’ve stumbled upon a genuinely good price. A lot of the deals out there just aren’t good deals. One thing is clear, however: In today’s world, if you don’t use coupons, and if you do pay retail price, you’re likely paying an inflated price—an “anchor” price that the retailer floats briefly and that may exist largely to make a discount seem more drastic. In other words, only suckers pay retail.

If retail prices and percentage discounts are irrelevant, how do you actually evaluate, you know, actual value? You must evaluate it for yourself through the old-fashioned process of asking yourself: How much is this really worth to you? And I mean really.

Because many products aren’t worth the asking price, even if they are “discounted” by 10%, 25%, even 75% off some original price that was plucked out of the sky.

Read more:
Think You’re Saving? Think Again