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October 19, 2015

The Macy’s Columbus Day Sale that Wasn’t

Filed under: Internet,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:15 am

About fifty years ago (yikes, how time flies), MrConsumer discovered Macy’s big “Whale of a Sale” on Columbus day. Van Heusen button down shirts were $1.99 and Levi’s were about $6. These were crazy deals, even back then.

Five decades later, Columbus Day sales are not what they used to be. But, this year Macy’s advertised $49 button down shirts for $5.99 — not bad, given 50 years of inflation.

Macy's 5.99 shirts

So MrConsumer hightailed it down to the big, flagship Macy’s store in downtown Boston in search of those shirts. Walking in circles around the men’s department led nowhere. Three salespeople who were shown the ad looked like they never knew these shirts were on sale. A fourth paced the store in search of them. Having no luck, she finally called the department manager. The manager indicated to her that this was a national ad and this store didn’t carry them. What? An advertisement that is distributed locally does not have that merchandise available locally?

More incredible is the fine print footnote in the Macy’s circular:

*MOUSE PRINT:

Macy's yes we got no bananas

What? A disclaimer that says we may not have what we advertise? As a friend is fond of saying, “I have lived too long.”

We asked Macy’s to comment on the non-availability of any $5.99 shirts and how they believed that their small disclaimer could overcome various advertising laws that require stores to have the goods they advertised. A PR spokesperson for the retailer replied:

The advertising that you referenced was noted as “clearance” merchandise, and the image shown was selected to represent the category (in this case men’s sportswear, sportshirts, knit tops and more – also evidenced by the range of original prices). As this is remaining clearance inventory – which varies by store based on sales in each location – we include the notation that the pictured items may not be available at your local Macy’s.

We don’t think that any reasonable consumer would expect to find THAT particular shirt, but clearly there is an expectation of finding SOME $5.99 shirts.

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13 Comments

  1. Just as there is an Urban Dictionary online, there needs to a Retail Advertising Dictionary that explains what all these codewords like “clearance”, “special”, “discount” really mean.

    Comment by Marc — October 19, 2015 @ 7:39 am
  2. My reactions: 1. Not surprised at the deception; 2. Amazed that many people actually assisted in the search (REALLY amazed!); 3. Not surprised at the Macy’s response and their expectation that the public would actually accept that BS.

    Comment by BobF — October 19, 2015 @ 7:46 am
  3. Nothing but deceiving corporate bull*. Those at the top will stop at nothing to steal from their customers (now they call us “guests” and other warm fuzzy words to make us feel comfortable while they rob us of our cash) in any way possible. So much for the “watch dogs” we all thought existed through government consumer laws. I guess we’ll just have to hire a lawyer for $10,000 or so, just to buy a lousy shirt for $5.99! We are constantly screwed by those elected officials that protect big business profits over the working man. They call that “less government” and ” more freedom”! It’s just wrong and sad!

    Comment by Rick Micciulla — October 19, 2015 @ 8:49 am
  4. Marc, add “free” to your list because what I think of as free and what stores think of as free are very different things.

    Comment by Max — October 19, 2015 @ 9:22 am
  5. Over 50-years ago, A postal inspector (father of a girl I was dating) said “Nothing is wrong until you get caught.”

    It seems today that even getting caught means nothing unless there are consequences.

    If this happened with me, I would have my bumm at the courthouse and be filing a Small Claims case for false, misleading and deceptive advertising, I would also ask for my time in going to court.

    Most importantly, when I won, I would send the details to Mr. Consumer here so he could show people it really does pay to Fight Back (Thanks David Horowitz).

    Comment by David G — October 19, 2015 @ 9:34 am
  6. This type of advertising is definitely suspect. If a local advertisement isn’t advertising locally available goods then it has no relevance. This is similar to restaurant coupons and ads that claim ‘only participating franchises’ would honor the coupon. What’s the point of advertising as a franchise if most people can’t find a participating location?

    ‘Clearance’ by definition varies by store so it is rare to ever find the same clearance merchandise at two different stores.

    I can imagine stores trying this trick more often as holiday sales approach.

    Comment by Wayne R — October 19, 2015 @ 11:15 am
  7. I think this is a standard sales flyer ploy now. Four years ago I spotted an flyer item on sale at CVS, and trotted down there the morning of the first day, only to have the same experience you had with your shirts.

    Result? I hadn’t encountered this ploy before, and being from Canada I hadn’t shopped at CVS before. As a result of their misleading ad, I haven’t shopped there since, no matter how their flyers tried to tempt me. That ploy taught me CVS just wanted to make me waste an hour on a Saturday morning searching the store for something that was never going to be there.

    Comment by Noni Mausa — October 19, 2015 @ 11:33 am
  8. This is not as bad as other mouse print mess at this place. I am assuming that the ad is more of a national ad and if some stores that have had better sales of those items would have almost none of the product for sale or non of the product for sale.

    Comment by Richard — October 19, 2015 @ 1:31 pm
  9. What would be really interesting to know is whether ANY Macy’s had any shirts at that price! Who’s going to drive all over town checking out different stores for $5.99 clearance shirts? And if all the stores in one city didn’t have the shirts, they could just claim that stores in a different city had them. This ad could have been totally bogus and no one would ever be the wiser!

    Comment by John — October 19, 2015 @ 2:53 pm
  10. I see “limited quantity” in the ads around here. on Black friday last year, the big red circle store advertised ‘at least one per store’. The corner drug store here has ‘manager special’ items. I watched when the advertising sticker was placed on the empty item location spot.

    Comment by Tom Gauvin — October 19, 2015 @ 3:59 pm
  11. Well Noni Mausa the only way this would be full on FRAUD is if NO stores had any of those 5.99 shirts in stock.

    Comment by Richard — October 19, 2015 @ 5:55 pm
  12. Are people really surprised by this? The first indication that $5.99 shirts may or may not be available is the word CLEARANCE. If you have ever shopped at Macy’s before, you know that CLEARANCE is a bunch of odds and ends that are hanging around, waiting to be packed up and shipped out to an off-price retailer. The fact is, they only need to have (had) one $5.99 shirt in stock for the ad to be legit. Who’s to say that one shirt wasn’t sold before you got there? The other indication is that the ad is very vague, no brand name description or any other details are given, which means the selection, or lack of selection, means that the chances of you finding that $5.99 deal are probably impossible.

    Edgar replies: Rico, under Massachusetts law a retailer needs to have sufficient quantity to meet reasonably anticipated demand. One shirt doesn’t cut it. Further, this is not a case where they had a flurry of early sales when the store opened. There never was a display of any $5.99, as the department manager admitted. The disclaimer in their footnote doesn’t apply just to this item, but to all items in their circular. No seller can legally advertise merchandise but say in a footnote that they may not actually have any.

    Comment by Rico R. — October 20, 2015 @ 7:15 am
  13. Several years ago a big box store advertised riding mowers at a good price. When I went to buy one they did not have any and fed me the same (may not be available) line. I raised cane and they had some shipped in from outside the territory. I went to pick it up and they charged $100 less than advertised. I showed the advertisement to them and they said they had to go with what as in computer for the cash register. SOOOOOOOO.. Pays to raise cane and pays to be honest also. i would definitely have paid the circular price.

    Comment by Duke Burnett — October 26, 2015 @ 10:03 pm

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