Monday, December 01, 2008

Doorbuster Sales

Following the death of a Wal-Mart worker, NYC appears poised to require additional security during "major sales". Despite the tragedy, given that security measures appeared to be at least adequate at all stores except the one where the death occurred, it's reasonable to question the necessity of the law.

But if you want to be sure that this won't happen again, is security really the problem? Or is it that the concept of a "doorbuster" sale became too literal. The fact is, when you offer an array of loss leaders designed to attract huge crowds to stores, and offer an additional array of discounts that are only valid for the first few hours of the shopping day, bargain hunters must mass at the doorways at opening time in order to even have a chance for the best deals.

Loss leaders are, of course, quantity limited discounts meant to bring in those big crowds. The idea is that, although few shoppers will be able to take advantage of those discounts, people attracted by the possibility will buy other merchandise. The only thing that differentiates a loss leader from "bait and switch" is that your ads specify that quantities are limited (e.g., "Only 200 available at this price).

If you want to keep crowds from massing at the doorway, classify the advertisement of limited quantity loss leaders as a form of "bait and switch", require issuance of rain checks when quantities run short, and require all specials to be offered through the entire business day. Stores would object, as you would be removing elements that help create the frenzied atmosphere that allows them to clear their shelves of stuff that a calmer crowd would probably leave behind. But you won't have people trampling store clerks, beating up other shoppers, or shooting each other over the possibility of missing that "doorbuster" deal.

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