Training customers to become Stealth Shoppers

I love shopping; the buzz of finding something gorgeous makes me feel happy. What could be better? Well, finding that perfect purchase at a bargain price, that’s what.

But I’m not a fan of the end of season sales. All that chaos does my head in, I don’t want to wait until the weather has turned cold before I stock up on strappy dresses and sandals, nor do I want to have a fight with someone who has their grubby mitts on the bag I have my eye on. No thanks.

Sales are for amateurs. I, like many other shoppers, have been trained by retailers to join a crack force of expert shoppers, known as “Stealth Shoppers.” (I made that up, but it has a certain ring to it, don’t you think.) Stealth Shoppers can sniff out a bargain months in advance.


Hands up who’s ever bought full price fashion from Boden? Me neither. Admittedly some of their stuff is a a bit too “kooky” for me, but when I see something I like, what do I do? Wait until its on offer, of course. Why on earth would I pay full price, when I can get a 20% off just for waiting a few days?

We Stealth Shoppers study the promotional habits of retailers, bide our time and wait until we receive a 10% off voucher code, then 15% and then the long awaited 20% off voucher with free delivery and free returns. And then we pounce.

Sometimes I feel that I’ve got one up on these stores, but isn’t it like a unspoken game we play, dancing around each other until the price is right? I know that they know that I know that they know what I’m up to. And ultimately it’s a win win.

But, now that I’m writing this, I’m wondering if these businesses have done themselves a disservice, damaging their brand in the process.

Whilst working as a brand manager for Avon a few years back, I saw first hand what happens to a brand with a mania for price promotions. Avon customers got to know more about pricing tactics than the marketing team did. This commando core of Stealth Shoppers studied our every move, waiting for their favourite products to come onto special offer and buy in bulk. 2 for £10, Save 30%, BOGOF, they knew exactly which deal gave them the best value and they certainly had no intention of buying at full price.

Consequently, sales of standard priced products were stagnant and the Avon is viewed as being all about the bargains- which in my opinion totally undervalued the brand and its product credentials. All that research and development, and for what? To give it away for almost nothing.

Perhaps I’m being harsh? Obviously this kind of approach is a conscious strategy, and in many cases it seems to work, but I wonder what the impact on the market as a whole is? Other businesses are forced to join in, in order to compete or take a stand against the gannet mentality. Where will it stop? And what’s the long term effect on the brand perception?

And is it really good for the consumers? We Stealth Shoppers seem to be happy enough, but I wonder how the customers who paid full price feel?!


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