Thursday, September 16, 2010
Let's go Shopping!
Unlike many of its competitors, Macy's didn't allow customers to buy on credit. "Cash only" kept their prices down. A perk we take for granted was considered revolutionary at this time: the ability to return goods. Customer satisfaction came to the forefront, allowing customers to return defective merchandise. But it wasn't as carte blanche as it is today. There had to be a reason. But Macy's always gave you more than you asked for. They erred on the side of the customer.
Some stores offered luxurious "rest" rooms for those who'd traveled from a distance. In 1892 Macy's advertised a sumptuous ladies "waiting room" that included $11,200 in artwork (about $250,000 in today's money.) Lunchrooms made it possible to stay on the premises to refuel. Elevators made it easy for customers to have access to additional floors. Electric lights and even electric fans made shopping more pleasurable: "Electric fans supply artificial breezes. They're as pleasant and inspiring as the winds that blow from wooded hill tops." Department stores opened up another job opportunity to young women, many who left home to work there. One young woman, Margaret Getchell La Forge, started as a cashier at Macy's but was promoted to bookkeeper and then superintendent—one of the first women executives.
Macy's was determined to undercut the prices of all others. They had employees who scoured their competitors' stores to make sure Macy's prices were lowest. Once, in 1902, Macy's had some Japanese silks that sold for .41/yard. Hearn & Son started a price war. It ended the next day with Macy's selling the product for 11 yards for .01! This kind of price slashing was rare, but Macy's was also known for advertising comparative prices for like items. What one did, the others were often forced to do to keep up.
Catalogs were created for rural customers to pour over. Hence the term "wish books". If you ever find an original one, hang onto it, as they were so heavily used it's hard to find one intact.