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Kmart Says Savings Are Here to Stay; I Say What Savings?

3 Mar, 2003 By: Stephanie Prange

Kmart just launched its new “Savings Are Here to Stay” promotion designed to entice customers from closing stores to ones that will remain open, but if the closeout sales are any indication, the “savings” may be in the eye of the promotions department only.

I happen to live near one of the shuttering Kmarts, and we stopped by this weekend in the hope of picking up a few bargains. Big signs touting “30 Percent Off” and the like were posted throughout the store, and constant “Blue Light Special”-reminiscent announcements rang over the PA system. Fighting through the crowds of bargain hunters, I noticed people weren't buying much, and neither were we. And it was no wonder. The prices – when you could find them and calculate the savings – were no better than those at competing stores like Target and Wal-Mart — stores that weren't closing. Despite the “everything must go” come-ons, it seemed as if Kmart wasn't offering bargains, but instead was selling us bill of goods.

Many of the items offered at percentage discounts looked like they had been marked up to offset the cut. The upshot was often a price that was no bargain at all. “I've seen it cheaper at Target,” my husband commented about one item. And forget about Wal-Mart; that chain's everyday low prices beat many of the “closeout” prices in the Kmart store. In the end, the trip wasn't really worth the time it took to peruse the aisles and wait in the understaffed checkout line where these mysterious sale calculations cost time and caused much exasperation.

Now, I'm not the only one who has noticed this faux sale; at least one of my neighbors noticed the same thing. If the new management at Kmart is hoping to bring back lost customers, they certainly got off on the wrong foot with at least a few shoppers. I left with the impression that Kmart offered the same not-so-low prices and the same bad service, but at a louder, more annoying promotional pitch.

This “sale” strategy may work to boost the bottom line for a while. I'm sure many shoppers bought a few things just to keep from making the trip for nothing. But I wonder if they'll be back for more closeout merchandise or for the “Savings Are Here to Stay” offers at the remaining Kmart stores.

If Kmart managers hope to turn the chain around, they need to drastically change things on the customer level. They've got to offer good prices, not faux sales; they've got to beef up the number of clerks; and they've got to stop alienating shoppers with an unpleasant shopping experience.

Speaking of annoying customers, our theatrical brethren recently got in a bit of legal hot water over those commercials they are showing before the feature. Seems moviegoers got miffed enough at the reams of ads running past the appointed feature start time to file lawsuits charging fraud. Chalk up another advantage for DVD; you can skip the commercials and the popcorn's a lot cheaper.

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