Worse than junk mail

People in direct marketing tend to get all huffy at the words “junk mail”. Well, there’s something worse. I call it “stupid mail”. An outstanding example came to my door this fall. A mailing package that, for starters, had cost eighty six cents to mail. The outer envelope was closed face, personally addressed, identified a high end retail store and declared that the contents were “Personal & Confidential”. If I was truly expected to believe that, then I was also expected to believe that mine was the only envelope to have been pre-printed with this information.

Given that the vast majority of retail store communications consist of newspaper ads at best and throw-away sale flyers at worst, this was a first class package. The main event was a multi-page mini “catalogue” featuring the store’s trendy fashions. No expense was spared…quality paper, metallic ink, graphic design that, in the social circles served by this particular store, would probably be considered “cool”. Frankly, it all left me a bit that way, too…cool, that is.

Inside–a “letter from the President”, always a good way to establish that all-important relationship with the customer. He was most excited by the fact that , “We have come up with a new approach to pricing…”. He had my attention.

Anybody who can claim they’ve come up with a new way of pricing in this age of every conceivable angle on pricing certainly captures my attention. What did this mean? “And the savings come to you in three different ways”. Gee, I thought we were talking about a new approach to pricing. What we’re really talking about is savings? Well, since savings is not a new concept, it must be the “three different ways” that are novel. Turned out the first was a “Privilege Card”, the second, coupons and the third was specially priced items–mark-downs by any other name.

Sure enough, the package also contained another envelope declaring the contents to be “Coupons & Gift Certificates” and admonished me to “Spend them wisely!” Excuse me? Whatever happened to spending frivolously, impulsively and foolishly? Sigh…I guess the eighties really are over!

The difference between a coupon and a gift certificate was rather unclear, especially as both were designed to look like a pseudo-cheque. Forgiveness for sins of design was easy once I calculated I had over two thousand dollars worth of “savings” in my hand. Now my attention was rivetted!

The package also contained an elegant plastic “Privilege Card” with an identifier number and a signature panel on the back. The carrier the card was attached to announced that the card entitled me to: a 15% discount for purchases in excess of $2500, the convenience of after hours shopping, and free delivery anywhere in Toronto within 24 hours and anywhere in Canada within 48 hours.

All-in-all not a bad collection of offers for a semi-regular customer to the store.

Now comes the stupid part…also known as the fine print, terms and conditions, disclaimers, weasel clause, etc.

The 15% “Privilege” discount only applies to regular priced items and is not applicable in conjunction with coupons or those specially priced items mentioned above. I guess the privilege lies in paying regular price.

Further, the convenience of after-hours shopping requires 48-hours advanced notice. “Oh, honey, I think I’ll go shopping two days from now. Will you call and tell the store I’m coming?” Sure.

And, the free delivery? Available for regular priced items only. Guess we know who’s really paying for that service!

The stupid part about the gift certificates and coupons was that only about 4 weeks were allowed to do anything with them and, since it was a good two months till Christmas, I guess the gift certificates were designed to provide incentive for those who only buy for themselves…and spend thousands (but, wisely)…very early!

OK, so now I have yet another Privilege Card (to clutter up my already-cluttered wallet), offering negligible benefits only useable on the second Tuesday of every other month because the coupons are worth greater savings.

Yes, this was all definitely a new approach to pricing! Especially considering I actually sat down and tried to figure it all out. That was the really stupid part!

P.S. I just got another mailing from this store in late November announcing a good, old-fashioned

sale up to 50% off. Not a peep about that ” Privilege Card” thing! Have they noticed I haven’t used it?

 Charles de Gruchy remembers how it was

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