Vague, rather than straightforward - Tucson Local Media: Editorials

Vague, rather than straightforward

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Posted: Wednesday, December 31, 2008 12:00 am

I still think the price of gasoline is about a dollar too high regardless of how lower it is compared to six months ago, but why do they need that annoying .9 tacked onto the price? Why can’t the oil companies just post the price in actual dollars and cents?

Why are department store sales racks loaded with clothing items marked at 33 percent off original price; can’t they just tell us the price right up front? Why has our society become driven by such a powerful urge to be vague rather than straightforward? This mindset permeates every level of government, various clubs, organizations and homeowner associations.

Generally speaking, consumers aren’t stupid and not easily duped by the retail-pricing gurus who are obsessed with tacking on that .9 or .99 charge to the posted price. Research has confirmed that the human brain immediately computes the price $.99 as a dollar; $9.99 computes as ten bucks and so on.

Nonetheless, marketing professionals selling everything from gasoline and groceries to underwear and real estate insist that presenting a commodity for sale at just a smidgeon less than the rounded-up price will fool us into believing that we’re getting it for a much lower cost. In a world fraught with ongoing economic problems and challenges, intentionally adding to consumer frustration and presumed naiveté by using lame pricing tactics isn’t cutting it, as evidenced by sagging retail holiday sales figures and the growing glut of unsold vehicles and homes on the market.

In reality, today’s consumers are more savvy than ever and the majority of them have a handy shopping tool at their disposal called a computer that has the capacity for Googling things, and this includes an endless array of shopping comparison web sites. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that someone will settle on the correct answer because of the online bogus factor -- human posted blogs (web logs) and actual web sites that intentionally offer misinformation. But using a tad of common sense and diligence allows most consumers to come comfortably close to confidence when pursuing a good deal.

For years, I shied away from online shopping, fearing a dreaded identity theft and outright distrust about many online sellers, because you never know for absolute certain where your credit card information is going or how well it’s being protected even though the legit sites offer an assurance of security. However, after making a few successful online transactions I was hooked and now do the majority of my shopping there whenever possible.

The reason is simple—price. It’s hard for brick and mortar stores to beat online pricing much of the time. I still visit local retailers, but mostly to get a hands experience with the product I’m interested in buying. On occasion I’ve printed an online web site price for an item and taken it to the store to see whether or not they offer a price match. If so, I may buy it on the spot if I need it immediately. Many local retailers have come to the realization that globalization is here to stay and they have to compete on that level or go out of business. Virtual retailers also understand they’re competing with local retailers that have an item available now, so consumers have some leverage if they choose to use it.

But regardless of how you choose to shop, it still doesn’t resolve that annoying little .9 or .99 add-on listed on nearly every price tag. I suppose the good news is that we avoided going metric, which would have brought most consumers to their knees in sheer exasperation and launched the country into an episodic shopping dither that would have been somewhat akin to the one that’s under way due to the recession. But I contend that consumers remain in the driver’s seat and will for well into the future, so this is our big chance to eliminate the unnecessary nuisance charges.

If we, as consumers, unite and begin offering retailers the rounded-down price for their products, they may get the hint that we’ve had it with the .9 and .99 tack-ons. The next time I walk up to a register with an item priced at $2.99, I’ll hand them two bucks and say I’ve simply invoked a consumer commodity calculation. Odds are I’ll either walk out of the store with nothing or pay the listed amount plus tax, but at least it’ll give me something new to try when I’m out with the human herd. For some reason I’ve reached a point in life when doing something new is revitalizing.

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