What’s the Right Price?

I’m confused.

It seems a lot of the old rules about pricing and value have been thrown out in this distressed economy.

Everything is on sale, and while my pocket book thinks this is great… part of me is severely troubled by this Topsy Turvy world of “recession pricing”.

A friend of mine recently walked into a department store in Soho and was discreetly informed by the sales girl that there was a 75% off unadvertised private sale.

That’s great. But she couldn’t help thinking what if she had been one of the customers that didn’t get the secret message?

What was the real value of the clothes? It seemed very arbitrary.

I’m glad to be saving money. But if it’s so easy to be making such dramatic cuts, can we ever expect people to ever pay “regular economy” prices again?

In contrast, I was out walking last weekend in Marin County trying to get some steps on my pedometer before breakfast. I walked by a mall parking lot and saw a car for sale with this sign in the window” “$9,000. No Haggling”.

I actually found this re-assuring and refreshing.

Now I have no idea of the value of that particular car.

But I got a sense that the owner did. And that was the price they were prepared to accept.

It’s not a new approach, Saturn created it’s company on “fair price, no haggling”.

But now when drastic price cuts are calling into question the value of all things, I felt comforted that someone out there was taking a firm approach and sticking to their guns.

Will that car sell? I don’t know.

But it might get more than a second look from people like me who are growing weary of “the price is right” guessing game we seem to be all playing.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

Are you having trouble determining the value of things?

The Scarlet P

I was walking up Park Avenue from Soho the other night with a plastic bag of groceries. Suddenly I felt incredibly negatively conspicuous toting my plastic sack.

I was getting dirty looks from everyone I passed. (I’m pretty sure it was not my imagination). It was as if there was a huge scarlet “P” for “Plastic User” seared into my forehead.

In my defense, this blatant “plastic toting” is no longer my standard behavior. Thanks to pressure from my daughter, I now bring the canvas sacks to Stop & Shop on the weekends. I just happened to be doing some spontaneous lunchtime shopping near my office and didn’t have my canvas tote with me. (I swear your honor).

It got me thinking…when did scorning plastic bags go from a marginal “greenie” behavior to such a mainstream one?

The speed in which new consumer behaviors are taking root is dizzying. Some of these new behaviors are motivated by concern for the environment, others are a response to the recession. But what seems really clear (and a bit frightening) is the way that people behave is changing…and changing fast.

What other behaviors driven by the environment, the recession or both are rapidly taking hold?

One macro-trend that keeps coming up in the conferences I’ve been attending is “Fashionable Frugality”. The idea that saving money, and flaunting those savings is suddenly super chic.

Here are a few examples of this:

Buying at thrift stores…and telling everyone about it
Shopping our own closets and even hiring consultants to help us do this
Holding “swap” parties which address both the environment and the recession
“No gifts please” birthday parties, weddings, bat mitzvahs etc.

It makes me wonder what’s the next “new world” behavior (or “Scarlet P”) and how as marketers can we make sure we are prepared for these rapidly shifting trends?

Perhaps one way to be prepared is to do a “scarlet P” audit.

Take a look at our brands through the lens of wanton wastefulness- both in terms of literal environmental waste (e.g packaging, renewable materials, energy sources etc.) and perceived financial wastefulness (e.g. how does usage of this product or service appear to others in a more frugally chic world?).

This requires objectivity and also a bit of forward projection. You need to imagine that current trends will be exaggerated and that seemingly benign products and services may soon be under scrutiny.

Better to take inventory now and get ahead of the curve.

One result of this kind of audit is to re-engineer products and services.

Although I would be careful that your claims are genuine and don’t appear like a marketing gimmick. The recently launched Ziploc evolve sandwich bags struck a sour note with me. They’re made with less plastic, wind power, and come in bio-degradable packaging. But some how it feels off. (Maybe it’s the lower case “e” in the evolve name). Rather than launching a separate SKU, I think Ziploc’s efforts would feel more authentic if they just made this change automatically on all their products because it’s the right thing to do. Not because green is suddenly chic.

I know it’s a tough one to call. Sometimes you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Hmm…that makes me think of Hester Prynne and that other scarlet letter.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What’s the next “Scarlet P”?