Opinion Business
Gap Philadelphia Alex Brandon/AP Photo

In this Nov. 15, 2011 photo, a woman pauses as she walks out of the Gap store, in Philadelphia.

September 08, 2017

Want me to go shopping in Center City? Offer me deals!

Spare me your carefully crafted hashtags, social media influencers and brand idioms. Deals, dammit, I want the deals!

In a lengthy press release Thursday, Center City District announced the launch of their plainly named Shop Center City campaign, which aims to promote an already vibrate retail corridor.

The campaign features all the amenities of a thorough advertising ploy. Billboards? You got it. Social media stuff? Of course! "Interactive vehicles?" Not sure what that means, but yes. Brand ambassadors "telling their Center City shopping stories?" Yes. They seem like nice people. (I wish my dad was "well-dressed," like Saxby's CEO Nick Bayer).

All that is well and good and fine. But I chuckled at the lede of a CBS Philly story that compared the new campaign to Restaurant Week, CCD's hallmark, semi-annual event that offers discounted meals at popular – and often expensive – Center City restaurants. Because no where in that article, or the press release, or a Philly.com article about Shop Center City, is anything about the friggin' deals, man.

In its announcement, CCD boasted how a survey of Center City shoppers found, despite the emergence of online retail, most people who already shop downtown really like shopping downtown. Additionally, the district's retail vacancy rate is half the national average. Great! 

According to CCD, however, the goal of Shop Center City is to "expand Center City’s customer base and increase retail demand." If you don't already shop downtown, though, it's hard to say a tweet, sign above the highway or well-dressed Rittenhouse resident is going to draw the masses in.

So, how to? The formula is right there. Why is Restaurant Week raking in millions? Why does Center City Sips, which offers drink specials once a week at swanky bars and clubs, attract waves of high-rise workers every Wednesday over the summer?

The deals! Not contests, the deals! In an email, Jill Asher, who works for Cashman & Associates, a communications company that helped craft the campaign, said there would be "retail giveaways and happenings" as part of the campaign. Asked for an example, here's what she said:

For the month of September, Shop Center City has partnered with Restaurant Week on a ‘Fashion Plate’ giveaway. Anyone who posts an image on social media of a clothing flat lay and tags @shopcentercity and #ShopCCPhilly will be entered to win a shopping and dining spree.

That's a fun — and relatively simple – contest. But if you don't win, the incentive to Shop Center City is gone. It is not a deal.

Give me your 10 percent off jeans every Tuesday at select retailers. How about a buy one pair, get one free on at shoe stores? Or, hey, what do you think of a $10 credit for one week at participating shops? (Preferably, something that includes the Gap. I like clothes at the Gap.)

The deals do not even have to be good deals. The mind of a consumer doesn't work practically. They don't have to be actually saving money, they just have to embrace the idea they're saving money. Sips, on top of its bro-having shenanigans, doesn't offer drink specials any better than you could find at most regular happy hours in neighborhoods across the city. At Restaurant Week, you're often still paying for a hefty premium. I can buy steak, and I can cook it, too. 

No mind. "Ah ha, look at me, living the high life, downtown at a fraction of a cost!" is the mentality that gets people to go. "Butler, fetch my driver," they may add, to no one in particular. 

When presented with this argument, Asher countered that the goal of the campaign isn't necessarily to attract "bargain hunters" (author's note: everyone is a bargain hunter), but instead to let people know about the "underlying experience" of shopping downtown. Many new suburban centers (à la Valley Forge) promise an urban-esque shopping trip, while Center City is the real deal, Asher said. 

She also noted that deals at retailers were offered in conjunction with Sips this past summer, which included free gifts and other promotions at some stores before the Wednesday happy hour. Fine. But a big, grand announcement about a brand new campaign to grow an already impressive consumer base? That, unfortunately, must include the deals.

Deals, you fools. Give me those gosh darn deals!