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Friday, August 26, 2011

Learning What Not To Do From Other Retailers

I thought I’d post this letter I wrote to LA Times columnist David Lazarus to get a conversation rolling on the truly stupid things that retailers do.  I remember how hard it was to explain to my staff that rules were made to be broken at appropriate times, that we were, as an example, giving events to make friends and that if a rule got in the way and sent someone away mad, we had not met our goal.
If you have made a stupid marketing mistake (in retrospect) or know some retailer who has, send me up to 500 words telling me about them. Include a nice 50-word credit line that includes your name, your store's name and your Web site link. I’ll post it here.  Send to HoJoNews  (at) AOL (dot) com.
Anyway, here's the letter I sent to David regarding the CVS reward policy that he (and I!) hate!
A Retailer's Guide To Frugal In-Store Promotions: How-To Increase Profits And Spit In The Eyes Of Economic Downturns Using Thrifty Events And Sales Te

Dear David:
It seems to me that in this time of recession-produced attitudes. businesses are getting less and less marketing oriented or they're missing the point altogether. I read your column as I was waiting to be served a very early bird dinner at Fratelli's in Montrose. I had a coupon I had collected using one of the techy QR codes they had displayed on their table a few days ago, obviously designed to get new customers, repeat customers, loyal customers. There was no expiration on the coupon I downloaded but it was refused with a simple, "We no longer accept these." I respect their right to discontinue a promotion that is not working for them, but would it be so wrong to accept those coupons they had already disseminated? We won't storm off never to return, but maybe we should.

That brings me to CVS, the topic of your column. We shopped at our local CVS almost exclusively when it was SavOn. When it became CVS, we only put up with their lack of service for so long before we did disappear into the sunset. Forty-five minute waits to pick up prescriptions seemed to be the official policy. (Lesson one here: Many customers don't complain. They just leave.)

We shop Rite-Aid now and they credit our reward cards--no fuss, no muss. Occasionally they also dispense a coupon on our cash register receipt so we "know we are being rewarded," and I do use most of them. (I use a similar system to one the woman you interviewed who wraps her receipt around her credit card.) I get the best of both worlds. So does Rite-Aid. And believe me, I know that I'm getting my reward benefits when the associate at the cash register sweetly informs me, "You saved $2.19 cents with your rewards card today." I can also read. It's tallied right there on that receipt they hand me.

I am a marketing expert (author of several marketing books--a series for the publishing industry and one for the retail industry), and I have to tell you, there are inexpensive ways for big businesses and small to get great marketing advice--like books and your column. One of them (see the widget at the left) actually talks about reward cards. (   But mostly, it seems like common sense.
Down economy. Need business? Treat your customers like gold.

Keep up the good work!
Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Instructor for the renowned UCLA Extension Writers' Program
Author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally books--one series for retailers and one for writers and publishers.
Web site:

Carolyn Howard-Johnson's FRUGAL book for retailers is A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques launched at the National Stationery Show at Javits Center. Because she is the author of the multi award-winning how-to books for writers,The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't and The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success, retailers will also find essentials of writing for blogs, Web sites, and newsletters on this blog. She is the author of an award-winning novel, This Is the Place; and other fiction and poetry. She blogs on better writing at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor blog. Find her tweeting for retailers at @frugalretailing . If your followers at Twitter would benefit from this blog post, please use this little green widget to let them know about it:

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