Every weekend of my life, Famous-Barr (and whatever it was called before, they all blend together) has run giant newspaper ads and mailers to advertise a BIG. SALE. ! The ubiquitous pullouts feature pages of photos of jewelry, women in undies (knees to naval), women in skirts, men in shirts and ties, men’s pants (socks to belted waist, or just folded nicely), plus the super-automatic toaster/coffeemaker/breadmaker section. Often, there is also a 15% or 20% EXTRA off IN-STORE! or with your FAMOUS charge coupon, complete with helpful cut-out dotted lines.
The joke in my home (which never gets old for me — partly because it has gotten very, very old for P-Lisa) is to pick up the paper in shock and say, “Look, honey: Famous is having a SALE!”
At the end of every season of course, the SALE gets even more OUTRAGEOUS as all the Perfectly Functional excess inventory piles on big SALE racks priced some 75% off original prices, and I occasionally replace any fallen soldiers from the wardrobe with items that — shock! — might be so last year by the time I wore them a few months hence.
But last year, when Macy’s decided to buy struggling May (the owner of Famous-Barr), they were dag-dern-determined to change this image and change this value-oriented “coupon culture” (nay: poisonous cult!) that Famous-Barr had cultivated among its customers.
Hilariously, it hasn’t worked. The Biz Journal article is restricted to print-subscribers, but suffice to say it is filled with laments about how “Coupons are a religion in the Midwest,” and Macy’s attempt to “wean shoppers from May’s constant supply of coupons, sales and other promotions” has been crushed by this well-entrenched “coupon culture.” So after disappointing sales, now Macy’s is letting up on its weaning effort in order to please antsy shareholders (why else?). “We shot ourselves in the foot,” laments a Dillard’s (competitor) exec: “For many, the coupon culture is not going away.”
Macy’s is putting on a good face, saying “We’ve made a good impression” in the market, and “Our customers are responding to the great fashions and style we offer … We are working to reassure the customer that we offer great value and sales, great brands, and great benefits” through their extra special rewards program.
(What they really mean to say is: “Our goal is to get sensible people to pay more to buy more expensive and slightly more ‘respectable’ brand-name shit than the shit they’re used to buying, and in return we make them feel adequate and fuzzy in inside, and semi-luxurious on the outside. And they inch ever-closer to sleeping with Cameron Diaz.”)
I love this, I love this, I love this. I have always been positively stunned by the bulk of Famous’ (and other local department stores) constant sales efforts here — not so much by a naive wonder at “gee, how can they afford to discount so much so often?!” — but rather by why people would buy excess, multiples of crap (OK, not always crap, but often unnecessary) from these stores without some kind of serious discount as an incentive. I mean, the volume they need to move to turn a profit virtually requires that none of it is bought at something close to “retail” (whatever “retail” now means). In short, if your closet is adequate, why would you be moved to go out and pay full price for new versions of attire you already have?
Admittedly, I am of the old school of thought that clothing should last, be durable and immune from trends that push it out of style. So I go clothing shopping about once a year, to an outlet mall, or a department store with a BIG SALE, and be done with it. But I suspect my hard-line policy is a derivative of something inherent in the no-frills, no-hipster Midwest.
[Disclosure: as my circle of influence and, ahem, family has grown larger over the years, my eyes have been opened to just how many people spend just how many weekends of their lives buying just how many great deals offered at department stores. This market of discount excess is bigger than I ever realized.]
But about that style vs. function: I wonder if this is part of the problem Macy’s has run into in the Midwest: whereas on the trend-setting coasts, if you don’t keep up with hip new fashion trends, you’re more than just an aesthetic outcast — you’re a downright separate caste; the Midwest is much more forgiving to those who fail to realize or adhere to the when big-ass ugly bug-eyed sunglasses are back in. Hell, in the Midwest you can maybe even hold down a steady job despite busting out your tapered jeans on the weekend.*
*assuming tapered jeans have not hip-ironically been re-allowed since this posting, in some Abercrombie moment of uber-cool “look at my mesh trucker hat” moment
So it’s a generalization, but maybe the dreaded Midwestern “coupon culture” poor Macy’s has run into is not just a product of Famous-Barr’s misguided business ways (Hey, you guys bought ’em). Maybe it’s the product of Famous discovering the only way to turn good ol’-fashioned, no frills, wear-your-shoes-till-they-break Midwestern, down-home values folk into rabid consumers. Maybe these coupon cult members previously saw a coat as, you know, a coat: something that should last until it wears out, rather than until George Clooney wears something different. Maybe these people really, really need to be persuaded before they go buy redundant clothing/accessories/applieances that kinda makes them feel like the handsome folk on “Friends,” cause maybe the social incentive, the hipster reward, and the extra respect in the workplace just isn’t there in flyover land like it is on the fashionable coasts.
If so, good luck weaning ’em, Macy’s! You dark prince of quasi-sartorial excess, you. (*singing now*) My coat is eight years o-old, and I bought it at a year-end sa-ale, nanny-nanny boo-boo: ppthhhhhhttppptt!!