That’s not on sale, it’s on promotion


Last weekend, I went to a well-known clothing store to buy a few items. They were running a very attractive 30% off deal, and as luck would have it, every item I wanted was also available on a “Buy 2 or more, get them for only $XYZ each” special.

Everything looked good until I got to the checkout area. The cashier said that I couldn’t use the 30% off deal, since the items were already “on promotion”. So, I handed him a printout that clearly stated the discount was valid “on your entire purchase” and for both “regular priced or sale items”. When he insisted that items “on promotion” are different than items “on sale”, I asked to see the manager.

After a brief conversation, the manager applied the correct pricing and discounts. Rather than blaming the cashier for this issue, I believe the real cause is an overly complex promotional scheme at the corporate level, which has trickled down to a confusing set of rules that individual store employees have a hard time making sense of.

All else equal, simplifying your sales and discounts and promotional offerings will make things easier for employees and customers alike. But if legacy systems or other roadblocks stand in the way of meaningful changes at the corporate level, you should empower your frontline employees to take the necessary actions to reconcile those policies with customers’ reasonable expectations.