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From Dickens to Dickering: Winning Loyalty at a Bargain

Shopper-with-bagsThe week before Christmas has long been a sweet spot for bargain seekers, but these days they are taking the deal making into their own hands, and merchants are playing along.

What I’d be interested in knowing, though, is the role their loyalty data plays.

A story in The New York Times documents several cases where merchants are willing to haggle over prices with their consumers. While this has long been somewhat commonplace among appliance and home electronics chains, the practice is extending to upscale merchants, including Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom.

“Some retailers are training employees on the rules of bargaining,” the story states, citing Alison Kenny Paul, vice chairwoman of U.S. retail and distribution at Deloitte. “Instead of price discounts, those deals may be add-ons, like an extended warranty, free delivery or free installation.”

What has caused the season of Dickens to turn into a time of dickering?

Consumers are haggling because their smartphones are providing them more product information – including competitive pricing. Further, new online services, including DealScience and Greentoe.com, compare and rank online deals or invite consumers to submit their own offers on merchandise.

With that knowledge comes power. If consumers see that haggling works, they have no incentive to cut back. However, merchants can provide the incentive for consumers to come back – wrangling or not – through their loyalty data.

Loyalty program information is really the gift that keeps on giving, because every time the consumer returns, he or she provides more insights that can be used to curate the brand experience. This same data can help store employees identify best customers with whom haggling may be most beneficial.

That said, the data should not be taken for granted. The key to using it favorably at the bargaining table takes some segmenting to determine the best and most dedicated customers. Merchants should then make sure any preferential treatment starts with these most loyal customers, ensuring they are genuinely rewarded for their commitment to the brand.

After all, even a haggling session has the potential to be a positive brand experience. As consumers become more price savvy, this is what merchants should bargain for.

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