Analyst Corner

Shortsighted in the Midst of Recession

Categories: Uncategorized

According to Census data, in the past 12 months the US retail economy has seen a 9.4% decline compared to the previous 12 months. While there have been some bright spots, store closings, bankruptcies and layoffs have been the things most prevalent in the news. Most retailers currently have a focus that is more survival-oriented than growth-oriented, and some retailers have embraced some rather creative ways of enhancing their bottom lines in the short term, but at long-term expense.

Case in point, my family and I recently returned from a much-needed vacation. We spent it in a cabin in the mountains of Georgia, and Fall was in the air, which was a welcome respite from the heat and humidity of our South Florida home.

On the way home we stopped for gas in Perry GA, which had a convenient exit ramp and three gas stations nearby. Flash Foods had the lowest price showing on their sign, which on this day was $2.27 for regular unleaded. I pulled up to the pump, swiped my debit card, and the pump promptly told me to go in and see the cashier. Given that I knew there were sufficient funds in my account to cover a $40 fuel bill, I simply assumed that their system was hosed. Boy, was I wrong.

When I started to hand my card to the cashier, she announced that my gas would be $2.33, not the $2.27 showing on the sign. When I asked about the discrepancy, she told me to go look at the sign again. Sure enough, on the unleaded regular sign under the large $2.27 numerals was the word “Cash” in smaller letters. Right below that, where the price for the medium grade gas would typically be, was another unleaded regular sign with large $2.33 numerals and “Credit/Debit” in smaller letters beneath. To make matters worse, I had to leave my card with the cashier while I pumped my gas (this was something I didn’t have a problem with years ago, but in today’s PCI-panicked times it’s a different matter, particularly with the rudeness of the clerk).

Needless to say, I was a bit put out. So I bought just a few bucks worth, went back inside, got my card, and left. Ever since then, whenever I’ve passed a gas station, I’ve looked a little closer at those signs showing the price. I haven’t seen another like the one I found in Perry GA.

On a similar note, a Cici’s restaurant near our home is a favorite of the Holman children. For payment, they don’t accept credit, but they will allow you to use their EFT device “just like an ATM.” Simply, if your order is $32.85, they will round your debit card transaction up to $40 and give you $7.15 in change. What they don’t tell you, however, is that a couple days later a $2.00 ATM charge will show up on your account.

I confess, if I had bothered to read the whole set of signs at the gas station, I would have no reason to be upset; I’d simply go to another gas station. And it only took one visit to the restaurant to realize that I didn’t like their tendering practices. So why do these things grate on me?

I believe that in these trying times, these two retailers have blown any long-term relationship for the sake of an extra buck now. Gas station signs have historically shown a single price for each grade of fuel available. We look for the large numerals, usually for unleaded regular (or Diesel) only, and we don’t even notice the remaining text. As far as using plastic to pay for a dining experience is concerned, we have become so conditioned to convenience that doing so has become second nature.

At at time when almost all retailers are looking for a closer relationship with their customers to optimize repeat visits, the win-now mentality of these two examples remind us that many retailers remain short-sighted.