Shopping in New York

When I went shopping in New York on Friday I was reminded of this article by Tim Harford that the bofi had posted as part of a comment on one of my earlier posts. The basic insight in the article (which draws upon some widely cited research – I’ve read about it in several other places) is that too much choice may not be a good thing. That basically if presented with too much choice you are likely to just put NED rather than put effort into making the choice, and so it makes sense on behalf of the marketer to restrict choice.

So on Sunday evening, after having spent most of the day with a bunch of friends I know through an online group, and an hour or so with RG Mani, a very tired me walked into Macy’s, which claims to be the largest store in the world. I don’t dispute that claim – there are some six floors with each floor being the size of an average Big Bazaar. And there are clothes. And clothes. And shoes. And clothes. And more clothes.

Since I was trying to shop not only for myself, I ended up spending a considerable amount of time in the women’s section also. And the problem there was one of plenty. There was so much stuff to look at that it caused intense NED. I ended up just giving up on large sections of the store, and not even looking at even a sample of price tags there (yeah, I’m a cheap guy and was looking only for heavily discounted stuff). I won’t elaborate further on this “too much choice => NED” funda. Read the Harford article for more on that.

I don’t know what the strategy of the store is and whether they had deeply discounted stuff at all. The sample of clothes that I happened to check the price tags of were all extremely expensive. Perhaps the store did have some cheap stuff, but I don’t understand the policy of hiding it somewhere. Is the thinking that people on the lookout for cheap stuff are going to look more carefully and will hence find it? Which means some kind of “skimming” in terms of people’s attention spans? But the problem with this strategy is that by not displaying the cheap front up front, you may end up turning away a lot of people who look for cheap stuff!

Looking through all the huge floors of Macy’s caused me so much NED that when I saw an excellent looking reasonably priced Tommy Hilfiger sweater I didn’t even bother trying it. Maybe if I’d seen that sweater earlier I would’ve owned it now! So much that choice, and size, can do!

On Monday I went to this store called Century 21 near my office and had a more productive shopping experience. They also had both cheap and expensive stuff but they prominently advertised the cheap stuff with prominent “sale” signboards. Much more targeted, much more convenient for the cheap shopper, much more sales which means much more profits. Only thing I wonder is if this strategy of theirs turned away people looking for the higher margin expensive stuff..

3 thoughts on “Shopping in New York”

  1. I have been to the same Macy’s many times… the way it works is while you are looking for ‘cheap’ stuff, on the way there, you look at lots more expensive and attractive stuff, and you end up buying it saying to yourself ‘anyway i am spending x dollars, so why not stretch it to y?’ As far as I remember, at this Macy’s there was a. discounted stuff somewhere behind the escalator on a couple of floors and b. clothing over different price ranges.. some brands starting at 15 to 20 dollars per piece (not necessarily discounted). And yes, from conversations with some ‘upmarket’ shoppers in NY, I did gather that Century 21 is not really one of their places.

  2. Hmm, maybe it’s because Macy’s is an expensive store? Usually people coming from India for just a couple of months have the USD INR conversion too ingrained in their mind and never feel like spending anything in the US

  3. Agree with Anon. And with Usha. And of course with you.

    When I first went to Macy’s, my thought was the same – who would go to this store which is so heavily priced.
    My experiences with the store and observations – 1) Having studies in a small town, where there was was only one Mall (Macy’s is always inevitably a part of most malls) , and Macy’s was the only one which had decent stuff. So ended up buying there.
    2) They offer a 5% discount on weekend spends, plus discounts which are there throughout the year, esp on specific merchandise. So ended up buying there.
    3) Always saw a lot of elderly women at the store – guessing maybe they are price insensitive and do not have the patience.
    4) There are always cheaper chains (walmart/sears) and people know where to go to get cheap stuff, so people who are coming to Macy’s are not necessarily price sensitive.

    Conclusion – if it has been up for so long, they might be doing something right.

    Hope this helps!

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