A Search for Bargains Goes Social- New York Times

Decades ago, Macy’s proclaimed, “It’s smart to be thrifty.” Now, consumers who are concerned about the economy have elevated thriftiness to a lifestyle, as evidenced by everything from TV shows about “extreme couponing” to retailers that try to turn shopping into a quest for values.

Costco, for instance, is known for deals, found among its general merchandise, that are available one time only. The Burlington Coat Factory retail chain has a new commercial that carries the theme “Brag about it,” encouraging customers to boast about the buys they discover at “up to 60 percent off department store prices.”
Joining the trend is a chain in the Philadelphia area, Jomar Stores, which caters to households with average annual incomes of $25,000 to $75,000. Jomar has introduced a campaign from its new agency, LevLane, proclaiming that its specialty is “Retail treasures.”

The theme is underlined on a redesigned Web site,, with a section labeled “Treasure Chest,” containing offers that are available only to members of the Jomar frequent-shoppers program, known as the Treasure Club.

“Members get more,” text in the section reads, like “instant updates on new shipments” arriving at the five Jomar stores.

“That way you can snatch up the new stuff before nonmembers do,” the text declares.

Getting the jump on other shoppers is of interest to Jomar customers because the stores are not stocked like most other stores: Jomar buys returned merchandise from retailers like department stores, meaning that many of the items it sells are one of a kind.

A shopper who sees a red scoop-neck blouse in size medium at a Jomar store may want to buy it at once, because there are probably no others like it. By comparison, retailers like Marshalls, Ross and T. J. Maxx usually have items in much larger quantities because they buy lots of overstock and closeout merchandise.

To build traffic for the Jomar Web site and encourage membership in the Treasure Club, the campaign features a promotion in the form of an online contest, Show Your Jomar. The premise of the contest is summarized succinctly on jomarstores.com: “If you got a bargain, flaunt it!”

A customer can enter the contest by taking and uploading a photograph of “you and your favorite Jomar item: clothes, fabric, pots and pans, whatever.” All who enter receive $5 coupons.

Six grand prize winners will receive prizes that include iPads, $200 Jomar gift certificates and appearances on the home page of the Jomar Web site.

The campaign is being promoted on signs in the Jomar stores as well as bag-stuffers — fliers included in the bags shoppers carry out of the stores.

There is also a robust presence in social media: on the Jomar Stores fan page on Facebook, at, on the Jomar feed on Twitter and on the chain’s photo stream on Flickr.
The campaign, with a budget estimated at $60,000, is the first in several years for Jomar, which is part of a family-owned company, Jomar Textiles. The chain’s previous campaigns, on television and radio, featured a family member, Mark Segal.

“I was telling Philadelphia how wonderful my stores are,” Mr. Segal, vice president at Jomar Textiles, recalls. “My mother loved it.”

At a meeting last year with LevLane executives, he says, they told him that Jomar might be better off using new media rather than traditional tactics.
“I’m close to 50 years old,” Mr. Segal says. “I’m television and radio.” He was open to new ideas, he added, but wanted to learn more about the media consumption habits of Jomar’s working-class customers.

“We did have an e-mail list, so we knew a chunk of customers were online,” Mr. Segal says, and after LevLane staff members “spent a few months in our stores, interviewing our customers,” they determined there was enough Internet usage to make an online campaign worthwhile.

And if his customers didn’t go online, he adds, their children did, so “we felt it was viable, a tool we could use.”

The campaign is intended to encourage loyal Jomar customers to shop there more often as well as to recruit new customers through word of mouth.

“My customer gets hurt by the economy,” Mr. Segal says, and is “scared about losing their jobs.”

As a result, the size of each translation has declined, he adds, and “we are combating that by working on less margin.”

Bringing in new shoppers is a challenge, Mr. Segal says, because Jomar is not that well known outside “a segment of the population.”

“The lady shopping at Macy’s knows there’s a Ross,” he adds, but the Ross shopper — or the Macy’s shopper — may not necessarily know about Jomar.

Complicating matters, he adds, is the penchant among department stores for “advertising sales every week,” compared with perhaps “two sales a year” a decade ago.
Someone from a department store told me that only 7 percent of the merchandise is sold at regular price,” Mr. Segal says, which conditions a Jomar shopper to expect sales, too, even though the merchandise is already discounted.

“Our prices are 75 percent off regular retail, so a $100 dress is $25,” he adds. “But now, on Tuesdays, it’s 20 percent off the $25.”

The campaign is being accompanied by a remodeling of Jomar’s stores, which run from 30,000 to 50,000 square feet and have a warehouse, thrift-shop look.

“We’ve softened them,” Mr. Segal says, by changing the yellow and red color schemes, which were “screaming discount colors.”

“I feel more comfortable now doing this advertising to invite people to the party,” he adds.

Josh Lev, senior account manager at LevLane, which is also based in Philadelphia, agreed that the Jomar colors were, as he puts it, “not very inviting.”
The stores were “not the warmest environments,” Mr. Lev says, and the changes, which also include new signs, are making them “a better place to shop.”
The research that preceded the campaign took place among employees as well as customers, he adds, and “we found out a lot of good information.”
For one thing, Jomar shoppers describe themselves as “very loyal,” Mr. Lev says.

He recalls talking to a customer in line at a store who told him she was not happy that the promotion was intended to bring more shoppers to Jomar.

“She said, ‘I don’t want to give my secret away,’ ” Mr. Lev says.

Jomar customers also talk about how proud they are “of what they find there,” he adds.

“What’s unique about Jomar is the aspect of the single items” they buy from other retailers to sell in the stores, Mr. Lev says, which prompted the idea of Jomar as “a treasure chest.”

“You’re really digging for gems,” he adds.

While the current Jomar shopper “skews a little older,” Mr. Lev says, there is “an opportunity to go after a new target audience” of younger consumers.
“And when we go after the younger target audience, we know they’re online,” he adds.

It is no coincidence that the campaign, which began last month, will continue through December. After all, the fourth quarter is the most important for retailers as consumers shop for Christmas.

“My feelings for the fourth quarter are upbeat,” Mr. Segal says, despite the recent uncertainty about the course of the economy. “I think people are going to be shopping.”

Mr. Lev says that he hopes the campaign will be extended into 2012 with “more consumer-facing” elements like commercials.