Driving your customers to post-Christmas sales

Over the past few weeks, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time in two Polo Ralph Lauren outlets in Southwest Florida. (What can I say? My fashion sense was imprinted in 1985!) Both stores carry similar merchandise, are situated in high traffic outlet malls off main thoroughfares, and are staffed by similarly indifferent teenage employees. (Apparently, Fort Myers' job market is really tight) They had identical pre-Christmas specials in place, clearly marked with signs hyping price discounts and hanging banners highlighting special promotional items.

The traffic during the week before Christmas was steady, but not overwhelming.

The day after Christmas both places were nuts. Lines of customers snaking through the store. Piles of clothes everywere. Yet most of the pricing remained the same.

The difference? Promotion and consumer sentiment.

The six foot banners in the windows had been refreshed to now proclaim "Up to 60 % off" - when the manager got around to putting them up an hour and a half after the store opening. It was an accurate claim: prices were up to 60% off regular factory outlet prices, just as they had been on December 22.

A broadcast email from Polo's marketing department, making the very same promise, had pushed me to the outlet on December 26. I suspect it pushed others to drive their rental Lincolns and road-weary RVs to check out the deals for themselves.

I noticed that quite a few of the customers were British or German: Fort Myers has direct flights to both countries, and I suspect the day after Christmas was their first opportunity to hit the outlets after arriving in the US.

I shouldn't overstate my case - there were deals to be found. I snatched up those deeply discounted corduroy shirts and pants, winter '04 season casual shirts and chinos. After all, there will always be a 65 degree difference between Florida and Ontario in January!

Still, was their post-Christmas pricing promotion simply intended to reinforce the perception that deals can be found once the Christmas rush is over? Over at Saks, they actually had a 25% off promotion for early shoppers on December 26, over and above in-store pricing. Were they playing us for fools? Sniff.

Side note: I'm proud to note that the Polo Ralph Lauren outlet in Estero, Florida operates out of the Miromar outlet mall - a facility built and owned by a Canadian company.