Action Line: Retail strategies make spending easy, saving hard

By PHIL MULKINS World Action Line Editor
Published: 6/24/2011 2:23 AM
Last Modified: 6/24/2011 5:30 AM

Article originally appear on

Dear Action Line: Changing retail sales tactics affect the way I spend and save. I save less now than before the Great Recession hit. How is this happening? - J.T., Tulsa

Retailer trends are changing the way consumers spend in 2011, says Paul Richard, president of the Institute of Consumer Financial Education in San Diego. This seems to be turning them into "over-spenders." Find out what kind of spender/saver you are by taking two interactive ICFE quizzes.

"Spending is one key to a successful savings strategy and a sound financial future, as everyday spending decisions, especially credit-based spending, can do more harm to your financial future than any investment decisions you might make," Richard said.

Daily deals: With the explosion of limited-time daily deals via group-buying (more than 23 million last year) and flash-sale sites like Gilt Group and Jetsetter, other retailers have adopted this successful sales strategy. Online retailers Target and Overstock offer such deals, boding well for sales, and Facebook and Amazon also have daily-deal services.

Name your price: Gap recently took the daily deal concept a step further, launching "Gap My Price," which allows customers to place bid for clothing and accessories. The same as Priceline's strategy of targeting cost-conscious travelers, customers extend offers for items and Gap makes final offers that customers may accept or reject.

Free shipping: Retailers have shifted marketing efforts to target online shoppers by creating a more accessible e-shopping experience and offering free shipping both ways as well as site-to-store free shipping. Online stores Zappos and Piperlime now offer free shipping both ways, and merchants Wal-Mart and REI offer site-to-store free shipping.

Mobile sales, coupons, instant deals: The busier we become, the more we rely on our smartphones to shop, compare prices and look for deals. Retailers have cottoned on to this need as a new opportunity for capturing and engaging customers. CouponSherpa's iPhone app allows shoppers to research mobile coupons for specific items and use those coupons at checkout. Foursquare has become more popular for retailers and restaurants to provide special offers when you "check in." Ann Taylor in New York might provide a 15-percent-off deal on full-price merchandise for shoppers using Foursquare to check in. Amazon's iPhone App allows scanning a bar code or taking a photo of a product while window shopping and purchasing the item with just one click.

Social media sales: As Gen Xers move into peak spending years and become entranced by social-media shopping, more retailers engage them via Twitter and Facebook. The Facebook store "F-Commerce" is increasingly popular with retailers targeting such social-media shoppers. Also known as "social shopping," it allows consumers and retailers to aggregate and share information in real time about special offers, products, prices and purchases. Consumers needn't leave a social-media site to shop and can immediately share their purchase info with friends.

Shopping is so easy now, who has time to check the balance sheet? Be careful out there.