Thursday, May 14, 2015

When the Price Wasn't Always Right

You would think no one could take credit for this, but someone did invent the price tag. Until that time the price of goods was often determined by haggling.

Wannamaker's, once upon a time

John Wannamaker of Philadelphia opened his Grand Depot (aka department store) in 1876 on the site of the former Pennsylvania Railroad train station. This was Philadelphia's first department store and one of the first in the country. Wannamaker's was home to many "firsts" over time (first in-store restaurant in 1876 and electric lights in 1878) but the first first was that the prices of goods were clearly marked. He was the inventor of the "retail fixed pricing system" to eliminate bargaining. Wannamaker, though not a Quaker, may have been influenced by the many Quakers in Pennsylvania who thought haggling was undignified and not conducive to a fair transaction. Dearly beloved by Philadelphians, Wannamaker's lasted until 1995, when it was absorbed by Hecht's, which was itself taken over by Macy's.

Whether an actual price tag was affixed to each item or there was a sign in the display case is not clear. No one takes credit for the tags with odd encryptions for sku, class, vendor, style, etc. that dangle from garments these days. All we want to know is THE PRICE (and maybe the size). With all the promotions and discounts going on, it's hard to know even that. My local Macy's (yes they are everywhere) has "tag readers" situated throughout the selling floors like those penny arcade fortune tellers. Scan the price tag and the reader will spew forth today's price.

"Take an additional 25% off the lowest price."

We will wait to buy till we think we can get the lowest price, and we'll shop all over town for it. We insist on "price adjustments" if we missed out and take advantage of "loyalty awards" and competitors' price wars. We've barely stopped haggling, haven't we? It's just become a sport of the passive-aggressive.

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