Tag Archives: shopping

“Buy the shoes”

It’s August, which used to be the month of birthdays in my family when I was a girl. Mine, my father’s, and my mother’s–all within five days of each other. (My sister, the rebel, has a birthday in February.)

Sadly, my parents are gone, leaving only me to celebrate during the dog days of summer. However, I do think of my parents a lot during this time of year, especially my mother. And when I think of my mother, I hear her whispering in my ear: “Buy the shoes.”

You see, when I was a teenager and then a young adult, I went through what I guess you could call an awkward fashion phase that lasted, oh, maybe 20 years? For a while, when I was younger, I favored chiffony things, but since you can’t wear those every day, I ended up “borrowing” a lot of clothes from my more practical and stylish sister. She loved that. Oh, yeah.

Then I moved on to my don’t-look-at-me phase, which dovetailed with the time I started working in a college PR office. During this stage, I favored neutrals and blend-in-with-the-wall shades, all designed to make me appear “professional.” I guess at that time I thought professional meant boring.

There was one constant through these various style shifts, however–shoes. Or rather, my complete blindness to good-looking footwear. I just didn’t pay that much attention to it. It was more fun to spend my meager paycheck on blouses, skirts, dresses, jeans, a haircut. Besides, since I wasn’t staring at my feet most of the time, why would other people notice them? This led me to wear shoes until they practically fell off my feet. Scuffed, run-down, battered-looking shoes. Shoes that appeared as if they’d made a trip across the country and back…walking alongside a Conestoga wagon.


My mom, with me and my sister

My poor mom, she probably struggled to bite her tongue about my fashion choices (after all, we all know what mother-daughter discussions on clothes are like–raging battles with no chance of diplomatic resolution). But she found a way around my fashion sense, including my shoe blindness. She zeroed in on my taste and bought me items accordingly–a lovely cream-colored herring-bone skirt, for example, that suited my beige-is-the-new-black era, and a sleek pair of ecru pumps which were about the swankiest pair of shoes I’d ever owned up until that point. She chose wisely. The shoes fit, and I ended up wearing them a lot since they blended so well into my blend-in wardrobe.

Owning that sweet pair of shoes triggered an epiphany. First, they made me realize that I liked wearing nice shoes. They made me feel more confident, more professional, more “together.” They made me realize that small details can make a difference. They made me feel…I was worth it, to borrow an advertising slogan. I was worth good shoes. I deserved good shoes.

I used to love going shopping with my mom, and even today when I’m in a department store, the smell of new clothes brings back memories of going through the racks with her, a silent bond between us. And while I don’t collect shoes the way some women do, I have a decent assortment of comfy and good-looking footwear for virtually every occasion–from lightweight walking shoes to silvery slingbacks I wore at my middle son’s wedding.

Every time I go shopping, if I’m hesitating over a purchase of something I really like, I hear my mother’s voice: Buy the shoes. But that mantra really means something much more than just pursuing a materialistic comfort. Now I know its true message:

Be good to yourself. Value yourself, and others will value you, too. Don’t scrimp on this wonderful gift of life I helped give you. Buy the shoes.


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Goodbye, JC Penney

Recently, I wrote of my prescription for turning around Sears. My phone has since been ringing off the hook, retail consultants offering to pay me millions for more advice. (What? You don’t believe me? Why, just look at the photo of me in the new gem-encrusted tiara I was able to buy with my riches.)

So, now I’m back, offering advice to JC Penney. Here it is:

Stop, before it’s too late!

Penney has adopted a new strategy. They have moved away from continual sales with coupon enticements and have gone to continual deep discounts with what they seem to think is hipper marketing.

That means no more almost-daily mailings from JCP filled with coupons for this special deal or that special item. Good for them. Those coupons were a bear to keep track of, and I know more than one Penney shopper who always ended up in the store trying to use the wrong one for the wrong item on the wrong day (yes, that was me holding up the line in home goods with my outdated coupon for a turkey roaster). The coupons had enough fine print on them to put scores of optometrists’ children through college.

That’s the good news about this strategy: no more annoying coupons.

Here’s the bad news: the stuff shoppers loved about Penney is now…lost in the mist of mercantile marketing miasma. The confusing sales might be gone, but so are the “shopper cues,” the signs pointing you to the “two for the price of one” T-shirt displays, the “marked down” racks of jeans and khakis, the enticing shelves filled with gewgaws that you might not buy but put you in a buying mood.

On a recent trip to Penney’s for what should have been an easy purchase (a denim skirt), nothing pulled me into a display at all. Not even the jewelry or the casual clothes for women of a certain age. Those beckoned to me in the past.

To go along with this less-is-less marketing strategy, Penney now sends out expensive little booklets promoting each month’s special deals. The first one was reasonably, if not spectacularly, done. This past month’s was filled with…jewelry. As if Penney had decided to hop, skip and jump over their latest marketing efforts and become a standalone shop for the Gollum crowd.

But worst of all in this pantheon of pathetic promo ideas is their television campaign. The only thing I ever remember about their TV ads is a rather unattractive mouth on a less-than-appealing auctioneer. Don’t take my word for it. Watch for yourself.


JC Penney used to be my “go to” store, my first stop at the mall, the one I parked in front of. I knew I could always find comfy casual slacks there, curtains, sheets, towels, the occasional small appliance (ah, that turkey roaster), good costume jewelry and an upscale outfit for that once-a-year formal event. I loved Penney’s.  Now, sadly, not so much. They’re losing me, and I was a loyal shopper.

Way to go, corporate!


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Sears: Forget Consultants, Here’s Your Strategy

I don’t have a degree in marketing, but I love malls and department stores and stores in general. I have a pretty acute sense of where stores’ marketing niches are, the consumers they’re targeting, how they stack up against each other.

Here in Lancaster, PA, the main department stores are JC Penney, Boscov, BonTon and….oh, yeah, Sears. The Sears’ spoke of our wheel-shaped mall has to be the loneliest spot in the universe. Who goes to Sears…except to shop for appliances, Craftsman tools or car parts?

I'm sorry. This logo has to go.

Yes, I know Sears has added the Lands End brand to its clothing offerings, but how many of you out there either didn’t know that or had forgotten? I often only remember when I happen to be in the store for something else.

So it’s no surprise that Sears is in trouble, closing stores across the country. Yes, their woes are also tied to bigger issues, such as the disastrous Kmart acquisition. But part of their problem is they’ve let their market niche languish. They’ve hardly bothered to define it, let alone keep it up to date and sell it to consumers like me.

So, save yourselves a few million, Sears, and listen up to the advice of this savvy mall-crawler….

First, your competition isn’t the other department stores at the malls where you share space. No, you shouldn’t even bother going head-to-head with Penney’s or Macy’s or BonTon or Boscov. It would take so much rebranding, so much reselling and redefining of who you are to get you in that wheelhouse, and there’d be absolutely no guarantee that loyal Penney shoppers are going to march down that mall hallway to pick up some things at your store. That would take a long time with a lot of advertising and a lot of promos and a lot of everything in your marketing toolkit–just to get the shoppers to the door again, let alone buying anything. It ain’t gonna happen soon enough to make a difference.

No, you need to build on what you already have and come up with a regular enticement, some “must haves” to get shoppers in the door again. Stop thinking Penny shoppers. Start thinking of your competition as….Target.

Target has managed to become a trendy, hip, youngish discount store. A discount store that sells clothing, furniture, home goods, toiletries and more. Things you don’t get at department stores plus department store stuff.

You’ve already got a lot of their merchandise. You’ve got a brand name clothing line. You’ve got home goods and then some–unlike Target, you sell appliances and manly merchandise (the tools, the paint, the car stuff) that make you a destination for the Y chromosome crowd. You’ve got a reputation as the people’s department store dating back to the days when your catalogs brought the world to the prairie and the mountains.

Sears and Roebuck--not just a store, a philosophy.

In fact, as my sharp shopper daughter-in-law and I talked about Sears branding, we both almost simultaneously agreed you need to go back to those roots. Forget that crappy 1970s-looking logo. Forget just “Sears.”  You’re Sears & Roebuck, man. Be proud of it. You’re the company that brought America that book of dreams. Dreams that meant the housewife in the boondocks could have the same niceties as the social climbers in the cities. Sears & Roebuck.  Not just a store. A philosophy. You’re not just selling…stuff. You’re selling equality. You need to remind people of that.

So, get some Madison Avenue dudes and dudesses working on a vintage/trendy redesign of a “Sears & Roebuck” logo. Give them marching orders to design some new ads that telegraph to consumers you’re going to give Target a run for their money. You’re back in the dream business, the everybody-can-have-something-nice business. Your slogan needs to communicate: We have it all (implicit subtext: Macy’s and Penney’s don’t). Your image needs to shout young and efficient — put carts in those actors’ hands, and shampoo and soap in the carts along with sweaters and shoes.

Clean up your stores. Add a toiletries department. Get in some hip furnishings, offer CDs and DVDs. Gussy up the Lands End section. Offer bright shopping carts for all that stash folks will be grabbing from the shelves.

You do that and shoppers will not just return. They’ll make Sears the destination store, the one whose lot you park your car in. Look, honey, could you park at Sears, I need to pick up…

This will get customers back fast. Once they’re there, you can keep them with the store re-dos.

No need to thank me (although some gift certs would be nice). That lonely Sears hall at the mall makes me sad. I’d like it to be a happy place again.


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