I don’t think I can buy a pen at RRP any more.
I’ve been so conditioned by discounting that I expect a saving by default.
Pelikan and Aurora seem to get the biggest cuts — I saw 50% off Optima flex the other day — but discounting is common even for Montblanc, with Wheeler’s offering 20% off at least a few times each year.
Some retailers like Iguanasell heavily undercut competitors year-round on nearly all brands; others like Endless Pens give a rotating set of steep discounts.
The effects are several.
First, I’ve become totally desensitized to ‘normal’ discounts. I don’t get out of bed for 10% any more. When you get 10% just for signing up to a newsletter, it’s no longer a special occasion that spurs me to action; instead it’s an expectation, and stores that don’t provide a discount actually annoy me. When I get emails from the American retailers offering a free bottle of ink of case with an expensive pen, I run the numbers and get cross when I find it equates to something like a 3% discount. Of course, at the other end of the spectrum, a huge discount can trigger me to buy a pen I don’t really want — an equally problematic outcome!
Discounting has also changed my perception for what pens are worth. If Endless Pens can sell an Aurora Minerali for $398, it becomes very difficult for me to contemplate paying £600 for not only that exact model, but any Aurora 88, now or even in the future once that promotion expires. Effectively that discount poisons the well for the brand. I have felt this with Visconti, where I have paid £350 each for two Homo Sapiens editions. I recognise that I did very well there, but still I now find it impossible to conceive of paying over £800 for the new turquoise one, even though that’s what most retailers have it listed at and what most buyers are prepared to pay.
I’m also encouraged to time my purchases around discounts. If I want a pen and can’t find it discounted, I may simply not buy it. Pens are never urgent purchases and I have full discretion to wait for the best price, which hurts both brands and retailers — and therefore may be partly responsible for the rise of the limited edition, designed to drive urgency in purchases through FOMO, and deter discounting through artificial scarcity and skin-deep differentiation. It’s a crazy world where a different barrel colour commands a premium.
However I believe the hype train of limited editions to some extent actually fuels discount-driven behaviour. Retailers must dump old editions to make room for the new, and it’s hard to predict which ones will sell out and which will linger even at a discount. I know there’s a good chance that the LE I have my eye on will be discounted in a few weeks, and if not, I can generally find it for RRP later if the desire becomes irresistible.
The sad result of all this is that I find myself buying from discount retailers rather than from those stores selling at RRP, even when I know in my head that price isn’t everything, and no matter what the product. Even pens in my impulse-buying price level are not immune, because I’ve been conditioned to feel that when I buy without putting a code into that field at checkout that I have somehow lost or missed out.
The only decisions immune from the effects of discounting are those where I’m buying from a maker directly or from a brand with a limited retail network and therefore less choice. Here the decision is as it should be: do I want the pen? Is it a fair price? Can I afford it? I’ve paid retail for Nakaya, Carolina, Desiderata and others, because they opt out of the discounting game and have unique products. But even small makers can be lured into discounting: Karas Pens runs such frequent deals that I don’t think I would ever expect to pay full price again. The new V2 design of the Ink may test my resolve, though!
As a serial pen seller, discounts are doubly important. A pen that I buy for a keen price will lose me less money — or even turn a profit — when I come to sell. And I would be a foolish seller if I didn’t count the market (discount) price when setting my list price. If I buy a Visconti for £800 and try to sell it for £650, nobody will buy it if they can get it new from a retailer for the same price.
Is all this a problem? For me as a buyer, I think it is. I get frustrated that I can feel my thought process being driven by pricing rather than product and service. The thrill of a bargain is a powerful drug. As a retailer or brand, well, I can’t speak from experience. But I am a marketer, and I know that reputation and buyer expectations are hard to change. Once you get on the heavy discounting treadmill it’s hard to get off. And every discount not only kills margin but erodes your brand. For premium brands selling pens for hundreds of pounds, it’s a problem if retailers are fire-saling your designs for half price. It tells the market that your pens aren’t worth what you’re asking; that other people aren’t buying; that you can’t forecast stock or run an efficient business. These are not good signals to send.
Will it change? After Corona, I can’t see it getting better. Discounts will intensify as hard-pressed brands and retailers try to stay afloat. And opportunists like me will keep scanning the sites looking for a bargain, feeling just a little bit grubby about it at the same time.