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The Thrill of the Hunt: Why Off-Price Retail Ignores CX Best-Practices

Carlie Irwin
16 Jan, 2020

A frictionless experience is key to keeping customers happy. That's what anyone who knows anything about CX will tell you, and it's proven to be true across almost all business models — well, except one. 

Off-price retailers like TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Nordstrom Rack (just to name a few) are straight-up ignoring this best practice. Their brick and mortar stores are often unorganized, full of overcrowded clothing racks and a random assortment of merchandise.

Customers have to scan aisle after aisle and dig through overstocked shelves just to find the items they want to purchase — and they LOVE it. They love it so much that these bargain retailers are thriving while many of their department store counterparts (we're making sad eyes at you, Sears and JCPenney) are circling the drain.

Up is down, day is night, dogs and cats are living together, and customers are flocking to TJ Maxx for a shopping experience with all the friction they can handle. So how is this possible? We think it's all about the hunt. 

Treasure awaits

Off-price retail shoppers are not making a quick trip to the store to grab one specific item. They come ready to search for deals and be rewarded handsomely — at least that's the hope.

Imagine spending half an hour combing through racks of clothes, most of which are not your size or style, but then — what's this? A designer logo on a pair of jeans catches your eye. The jeans are super cute, there's one pair in your size, and it's half the normal retail price! Score! You are so proud you found this amazing deal.

police officer moose puppet yelling "best day ever!"

This thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction that comes with finding a bargain is what it's all about for these stores. Customers don't care that they have to work for it. In fact, the effort makes the whole experience that much more rewarding.

Understand why the decision is the most important part of the experience  ›

Off-price retail is like a box of chocolates

The items on the shelves at Marshalls today are completely different from what you'll find there in two weeks. That's because the store is constantly updating inventory, with new deals available on a daily basis.

What this means is that shopping at a store like Marshalls isn't a one-and-done experience. You scored a fantastic deal on those jeans today, and you are pumped. With new stuff coming in all the time, you better not wait too long to come back. Who knows what awesome bargains you could find next time? 

The lure of the unknown and the possibility of finding an even better deal is what keeps customers coming back for more.

Get it before it's gone

Back to your denim find of the century — remember how they only had one pair of those jeans in your size? There wasn't time to think about that purchase or mull it over and come back later. If you hadn't snatched them up right then and there, someone else was going to come along and they'd be gone.

The scarcity of merchandise at off-price retail stores makes it even more valuable to the customers. Impulse buying is much more likely to happen when shoppers see the situation as buy or bye. Can you believe you happened upon the only pair of these cute designer jeans in your size? And at that price? Why are you even thinking about this purchase?? Get out the credit card!

two men dramatically staring at each other, saying "fate."

The price is right

Speaking of price, people who shop at TJ Maxx and Marshalls actually do get good deals. The treasures they find usually cost 30-60% less than they would at traditional department stores. You probably don't need an explanation for why this makes customers happy. Who hates saving money? No one. 

But wait — there's one thing to watch out for. Brands are cashing in on the popularity of discount stores by creating merchandise specifically for them. The problem is these products often don't meet the same quality standards as those made for full-price retailers.

While those jeans may look the same as what you'd find at Nordstrom, there's a chance the quality of the materials (fabric, buttons, zippers, etc.) are inferior. This is more common at brand outlet and thrift stores, but it can happen at off-price retailers too. So beware!

Online is out of mind

Finally, a big reason why off-price retail shoppers feel so satisfied with their experience is because they aren't comparing it to online alternatives.

E-commerce is why many traditional department stores find themselves in trouble. It's hard to compete with the ease of shopping from your own home. What's more, companies like Amazon and Zappos basically wrote the book when it comes to a responsive, pleasant customer experience. If you have a question, concern, or comment — they're on it. Shoppers have come to expect this treatment, and now brick & mortar is tasked with catching up and adapting it to an in-store experience.

Fortunately for discount stores, they don't have to worry about what's happening online. Their customers come to the stores because they're excited about what bargains they might find. They don't even consider online as another option.

Mystery solved

So there you have it. Yes, off-price retailers are all "thanks but no thanks" when it comes to reducing friction as a CX best practice. But it's totally working for them because their customers want to work for the deals they get. Finding a coveted item at a great price makes them feel excited, proud and happy. And in the end, that's really all that matters.

girl in parking lot doing a heel click while pushing a shopping cart

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