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Company response: Winners

We investigated the accuracy of Winners' "compare at" prices, which suggest to consumers they're getting products for a lower price than they would pay at another store. We bought a number of products from Winners — including perfume, clothing, toys and personal care items — and could not find many of the items for the "compare at" price.

We asked Winners about why the company includes "compare at" prices on its price tags. Winners disputed some of our findings and declined our requests for an on-camera interview. In several detailed emails, Winners defended its pricing strategy. Read the full exchange below.

 

My name is Melissa Mancini and I work at Marketplace, a national consumer affairs program airing on CBC, Canada’s public broadcaster.

We are researching Winners’ “compare at” prices and wanted to contact you to discuss some of our findings.

In some cases, we’ve found products sold at Winners have “compare at” prices that are much higher than other retailers’ prices for the same, or similar product.

The American branch of your store, TJMaxx explains “compare at” pricing as the buying staffs’ “estimate of the regular, retail price at which a comparable item in finer catalogs, specialty or department stores may have been sold.”

This explanation is posted at some of your American TJMaxx stores. There is no similar explanation given at your Canadian stores.

During the course of our research for this story, we purchased several items at Winners to get a better understanding of your “compare at” pricing strategy and how reflective it is to the pricing of the same or similar products online.

We found that, in many cases, the items we purchased were available for sale at other retailers for a lower price than the Winners “compare at” price. In a few cases, the “compare at” price was accurately reflected.

We’d also like to mention that we were not able to find a number of products we purchased at any other retailers. We believe this may be because these products were sold in previous seasons.

We’ve spoken to a retail sales expert who told Marketplace the “compare at” prices are meaningless and do not provide consumers with accurate representations of the market prices of products.

We would like to hear your perspective on this information and we are interested in learning more about your “compare at” pricing strategy.

We would like to request an on-camera interview with TJX Canada President, Doug Mizzi to discuss our findings. Our host, Charlsie Agro, is available for an interview during the week of November 23-27, 2015 and can meet at a time and location that is convenient for Mr. Mizzi. I am sure you would agree that our viewers, Winners’ customers, would appreciate hearing your perspective in our story.

We’d appreciate it if you could please respond by 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Monday, November 16, 2015.

Now in our 43rd season, Marketplace is broadcast across Canada and is one of the longest-running and most-watched current affairs program in the country. We are committed to fair and responsible journalism and balance in all our reports.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best regards,
Melissa Mancini




Hello Melissa,

I’m following up on your email to my colleague Erin O’Brien.

I want you to know that we take very seriously the issues you raise.  We take great pride in offering consumers amazing values on ever-changing selections of great fashions, brands and quality merchandise and we are very proud of our record stretching back decades in Canada.                   
                                                                                                         
We would like to look into the questions you have raised.  It would be very helpful if you could provide us with the following information:

  • To help us identify the merchandise you believe was sold elsewhere for a price lower than our “compare at” price, could you please provide copies of the Winners price tickets from these items?
  • Could you please provide receipts or price tickets, or other detail about where, when  and for how much you bought the comparable items?
  • You mention not being able to find a number of products at other retailers.  Could you please identify those items as well with copies of the Winners price tickets?

Could you also please let us know when you plan to run your story? Thank you in advance and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Shannon Johnson
AVP Marketing


Hello Shannon,
Thanks for your quick response.

I’ve compiled the information you asked for in the chart below. It includes the information about where we found the comparable items at other Canadian retailers online.

One of the three products we bought that we found sold for a price that was equal to or more than the “compare at” price was an iphone charging pack by Mophie called Helium. After we bought this item we discovered that the product was missing from the package.

We’d also like to mention that we asked a retail sales associate inside the Winners store about “compare at” pricing, and how that price is determined. She told us that the “compare at” price was the actual retail price of the product.

We’ve spoken to Winners shopper who says she thinks the “compare at” pricing strategy used by Winners is false advertising. She said she believe it is misleading customers into thinking they’re getting a better deal.

We plan to run the story in early January.

Thanks,
Melissa

Dear Melissa,


Thank you for sharing the information about the items you found in our stores.  We have begun the process of researching these items internally.  As there are several items on your list, we would appreciate some time to review.  We expect to be able to get back to you by December 4th. With your story scheduled run in January, we trust this will work for you. If not, I’m sure you will let us know.

Thank you again, Melissa.

Best
Shannon

Shannon Johnson
AVP Marketing

 

Hi Shannon,

Thank you for your response.

We understand that your team is researching these products internally, however our air dates and production schedules are constantly changing and while our story is likely airing in early January, this may change.

We are currently in production and will be editing this segment during the week of November 30, 2015.

That being said, we would appreciate it if you could please respond by Monday, November 23, 2015 and let us know if you will be available for an on-camera interview. Once again, I'm sure you will agree that our viewers, your customers, will want to hear your perspective in the story.

Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best regards,

Melissa

 

Dear Melissa:

We are writing in response to the information CBC Marketplace gathered about products purchased at Winners and are responding to the disappointing and inaccurate claims you have made about our ‘compare at’ prices on these products.  We take your claims very seriously, as we greatly value our customers and the trust they place in us. At your request, we have assembled detailed information which refutes nearly all of your information.  CBC has put us in a difficult position though, as we have excellent relationships with our vendors, and have a longstanding practice of not speaking about the brands we carry in our stores or about other retailers.

Before we address your findings item by item, we would like to provide you with some additional information about Winners.
Winners stores deliver great value on an ever-changing selection of brand name, high quality and designer fashions at prices generally 20% to 60% below department and specialty store regular prices on comparable merchandise, every day. Through our 13 global buying offices around the world, we buy from thousands of vendors, which is one reason our merchandise mix is so exciting. In an average week, across our Winners chain, our stores receive approximately 2.5 million units, which means fresh merchandise continuously coming into our stores, something our customers love! Our vendors include big brand names to boutique and designer labels, as well as up-and-coming labels or one-of-a-kind gems. Our ‘compare at’ price reflects our buyer’s assessment of the regular, retail selling price of a comparable item in traditional department or specialty stores. We believe that our customers are smart shoppers, value conscious and recognize the great values we offer.

At Winners, integrity is at the heart of our business, and above all, we value the trust of our customers. We have a 25-year history in Canada, and we take great pride in offering our shoppers merchandise that meets our high standards for value, which to us, means a combination of fashion, brand, quality and price. We passionately believe in honesty and strive every day to deliver true value to consumers.

As to the claims you have made about Winners, we are attaching a document that refutes nearly all of your findings. Importantly, we want to point out that the information CBC assembled strongly validates the amazing values we offer consumers!

CBC selected 21 items for Winners to review. In all but one instance, we have validated our ‘compare at’ prices.  Based on our information, we identified one error in our ‘compare at’ pricing on a scarf, which we are re-ticketing. Each of our 245 Winners stores typically stocks about 40,000 items and weekly deliveries of 11,000 new items are common. With thousands of items coming into each of our stores every week, on occasion, as with any large retailer, an error may occur. We are not perfect, but we strive every day to be better. Further, when we become aware of an error, we quickly work to correct it, as we strive to make our customers happy. In a small handful of instances, although our ‘compare at’ prices were justified, we believe we could have been sharper and are re-ticketing those items. In keeping with our mission of bringing amazing value to consumers every day, we are also proud to have offered a lower price than the other retailers identified on most of the items, and on the small number of others, to have been essentially the same, or within pennies.

In your emails to Winners, you asked several questions about our practices. Our responses to those questions follow. (You may see some repetition in our responses here to establish context.)

CBC asked what is the basis for Winners ‘compare at’ pricing? Our ‘compare at’ price reflects our buyer’s assessment of the regular, retail selling price of a comparable item in traditional department or specialty stores. Our buying staff is trained and knowledgeable about trends and pricing in the marketplace as our internal processes require them to be. We also believe that our customers are smart shoppers, value conscious and recognize the great values we offer in our stores.

CBC asked why we don’t post this explanation at Winners as we do with T.J. Maxx in the U.S. Although our businesses in Canada and the U.S. have many similarities, they operate as separate businesses and there are some differences in information that we post. We provide information for Winners customers on the Winners website, in a link for customers called ‘How we are different,’ which explains, at length, our approach to how we are able to provide such amazing values to our customers.  http://www.winners.ca/en/winners-story.asp

In your email, one of CBC’s comments implied that Winners inflates the ‘compare at’ price to make customer savings seem greater than they truly are.  Absolutely not! We strongly refute this point! The ‘compare at’ price on our tickets is one reference point for our shoppers as they assess the value of the merchandise we offer. Again, we believe that our customers are smart shoppers, value conscious and recognize the great values we offer in our stores.

In some cases, CBC claims to have found that products sold at Winners have ‘compare at’ prices that are higher than other retailers’ prices for the same or similar product and asked how that could happen. The information we provided demonstrates strong support for the validity of our ‘compare at’ pricing and our excellent retail prices. Winners provides brand name, designer and high quality fashions that are 20%-60% less than department and specialty store regular prices on comparable merchandise, every day, whereas traditional retailers are more likely to conduct promotions, sales or coupon offers where their prices are discounted. When traditional retailers conduct promotions, their price reductions are usually temporary.

Each of our 245 Winners stores typically stocks about 40,000 items and weekly deliveries of 11,000 new items are common.  With thousands of items coming into each of our stores every week, on occasion, as with any large retailer, an error may occur. We are not perfect, but we strive every day to be better. Further, when we become aware of an error, we quickly work to correct it, as we strive to make our customers happy.

CBC also mentioned that you were not able to find a number of products you purchased at any other retailers and you believe this may be because these products were sold in previous seasons.  We buy from thousands of vendors all over the world, which allows us to offer an extremely eclectic merchandise mix from around the globe. These vendors include big brand names to boutique and designer labels, as well as up and coming labels or one-of-a-kind gems. We take advantage of a wide variety of opportunities to purchase goods which can include department store cancellations, a manufacturer making up too much product or a closeout deal at the end of a season, as well as lots of other ways to bring customers tremendous value. Most of our merchandise is fashionable, current season styles. A small percentage is past season, or timeless classics, which we also offer at excellent savings.

Please note that our written response to you serves as our formal response to CBC Marketplace and that we will not be appearing on camera for an interview.  The information we have provided strongly supports the validity of our ‘compare at’ pricing and our excellent retail prices. It appears that the information we’ve provided conflicts with the assumptions CBC has made for this segment and we respectfully request that you reflect these facts so as not to mischaracterize the amazing values we offer consumers.

We ask that you prominently include the following Company response should you choose to air this segment.

“At Winners, integrity is at the heart of our business, and above all, we value the trust of our customers. We have a 25-year history in Canada, and we take pride in offering our shoppers merchandise that meets our high standards for value, which to us, means a combination of fashion, brand, quality and price. Our customers are savvy shoppers, with an eye for great value. We are disappointed by the largely inaccurate claims CBC has made about Winners ‘compare at’ prices. Of the approximately 40,000 items we typically stock in a Winners store, CBC selected 21 items for us to review. In all but one instance, we have validated our ‘compare at’ prices.  Based on our information, we identified an error in our ‘compare at’ pricing on one item, which we are re-ticketing.  In a small handful of instances, although our ‘compare at’ prices were justified, we believe we could have been sharper and are re-ticketing the items. 
Importantly, we want to point out that the information CBC assembled strongly validates the amazing values we offer consumers! We passionately believe in honesty and strive every day to deliver true value to our customers. If customers have questions about an item in our store, we invite them to contact our customer service team at 1-800-646-9466 or email us through our website, at https://www.winners.ca/en/contact. To learn more about Winners, please visit
http://www.winners.ca/en/winners-story.asp.”

Sincerely,

Shannon Johnson, Winners Spokesperson

Winners attached this chart to the email:

Hello Shannon,

Thanks for your response.

Please be assured that we researched many products at Winners. The 21 items we sent you were the items we purchased for the production of the show.

We have reviewed all of the information you have sent us.

Here are our responses to the chart you provided:

Lole Astor Polo: We see that the polo is still listed for $39.99 on Sport Chek’s website, but that it is no longer in stock since we first price-checked. We understand that the regular price was $59.99 and we are in contact with Sport Chek to see when the polo was sold at the price.

Bally Total Fitness Ball: Walmart’s product is made by Bally Total Fitness. Best Buy doesn’t carry a Bally Total Fitness products online. The Bally Fitness ball from Walmart is the same size as the one we purchased at Winners and is also burst resistant. The Walmart ball also comes with a dual action pump, comparable to the one we purchased at Winners. We would be interested in your explanation of why the Best Buy product you identified is a more appropriate comparator.

Interdesign Foaming Soap Dispenser: Thank you for pointing out the discrepancy between the two products. We have confirmed the price of $17.99 for the glass dispenser at Home Outfitters.

Nine West Shoes, Jalene: These shoes sell for $99.99 (regular price) at Nine West Shoe Studio and on NineWest.ca. The shoes are currently on sale for $59.99. We’re checking with Hudson’s Bay to confirm their pricing of this product.

Marvel Risk Game: In this instance, we would like to confirm that Winners is reticketing this product based on the price of $74.99 that the product is listed at in the store F.G. Bradley’s.

Melissa and Doug vehicle stamp set: This stamp set is still $9.95 at Indigo. There is no indication that the same product is available on Mastermind’s website. We were told by employees at more than one Mastermind store that the product had been discontinued there.

Point Zero softshell jacket: The jacket we found at $65.94 seems to be identical to the one we purchased at Winners. The Sears jacket is now priced at $56.94, discounted from the price we found. We would be interested in knowing why you say this product appears to be a different style.

Fisher Price Book and Floor puzzle: Thank you for pointing out the issue with this product being on the wholesale website. However, the website that Winners used to validate its “compare at” price indicates the in-store price for this product is $9.99, which is also less than the Winners “compare at” price. As well, Indigo is sold out of this product, but its list price for the product is $10.99. The Australian publisher of this set (The Five Mile Press) doesn’t have the product listed on its website.

Adidas Small Defender Duffel: We have attached (below) a full photo of the Winners ticket. My apologies that the last one was cut off. The same size and style duffel bag is sold on Sport Chek’s website for $29.99.

Michael Kors scarf: Thank you for letting us know that Winners re-ticketed this item.

Axe Philips Shaver: This product seems to be available in the U.S. only. We couldn’t find it on any website that would ship to Canada, including the American Best Buy site.

New Balance Men’s runners: We were looking for as close to the identical product as possible. We see that Sport Chek sells 13 pairs of Men’s New Balance running shoes however none of them were similar to the product that we purchased.  A Sport Chek representative told us they don’t believe the store has carried this style in the last couple of years.  A Running Room representative told us they didn’t think the store had ever carried this style. We also called New Balance and were told this style was first released in 2011 and has since been discontinued. We would appreciate if you could send us a link to the shoes Winners is comparing to this discontinued style.

Calvin Klein tie: We were looking for the same product, but yes, there are Calvin Klein ties on The Bay’s website for $69.50.

Ralph Lauren mittens: The Bay doesn’t sell any Ralph Lauren mittens online, only gloves, therefore, as we mentioned, we couldn’t find a comparable price online. Could you please send us a link to the mittens you are referring to?.

Tommy Hilfiger Men's V-Neck shirts: Thank you for clarifying how the “compare at” was calculated in this instance with a different product (two shirts in the pack versus three). Was the two pack of t-shirts a Winners-specific product?

Kenneth Cole Reaction wallet: We were looking for the same or similar wallets as the one we purchased, but as we said, we were unable to find it. Could you please clarify if you will be re-ticketing this item, and if so, what the new price will be?

KitchenAid rolling pin: A KitchenAid rolling pin is available on Bed Bath and Beyond for 45.99. We weren’t able to find the exact one we purchased, but we see the similarities between this product and the one we bought.

CHI Magnified Shampoo, 32 oz: We were not able to find this shampoo in this size on the site you indicated. Could you please send us more information about where else this CHI shampoo is sold?

Please let me know if you have any questions.  

And we hope that you will reconsider our request for an on-camera interview to explain “compare at” pricing at Winners. We think Canadians would appreciate hearing from a Winners spokesperson who could outline all the important points you have raised in your correspondence, in particular the thousands of products that arrive at your stores every week.  

Sincerely,

Melissa

Dear Melissa,

In your November 27th follow up email, you asked us for more information for this segment. Please understand that we have already provided our formal response to CBC confirming our ‘compare at’ prices and we stand behind the information we provided. As a courtesy however, we have further clarified information and attached a few product images that may be helpful to you.

We greatly value our customers and the trust they place in us.  The information we provided speaks to our deep commitment to deliver an ever-changing selection of exciting merchandise to our customers, all at amazing values. We believe that our customers are smart shoppers, value conscious and recognize the great values we offer.

This email serves as our final response to CBC. Again, we have chosen not to appear on Marketplace yet fully expect CBC to reflect the facts as we have stated them in our communications with your organization.

Lole Astor Polo: We see that the polo is still listed for $39.99 on Sport Chek’s website, but that it is no longer in stock since we first price-checked. We understand that the regular price was $59.99 and we are in contact with Sport Chek to see when the polo was sold at the price. No response requested

Bally Total Fitness Ball: Walmart’s product is made by Bally Total Fitness. Best Buy doesn’t carry a Bally Total Fitness products online. The Bally Fitness ball from Walmart is the same size as the one we purchased at Winners and is also burst resistant. The Walmart ball also comes with a dual action pump, comparable to the one we purchased at Winners. We would be interested in your explanation of why the Best Buy product you identified is a more appropriate comparator. As we indicated in our initial response, there are many different fitness balls with differing sizes, weights and durability levels.  

Interdesign Foaming Soap Dispenser: Thank you for pointing out the discrepancy between the two products. We have confirmed the price of $17.99 for the glass dispenser at Home Outfitters.  No response requested

Nine West Shoes, Jalene: These shoes sell for $99.99 (regular price) at Nine West Shoe Studio and on NineWest.ca. The shoes are currently on sale for $59.99. We’re checking with Hudson’s Bay to confirm their pricing of this product. No response requested

Marvel Risk Game: In this instance, we would like to confirm that Winners is re-ticketing this product based on the price of $74.99 that the product is listed at in the store F.G. Bradley’s.  We are reticketing this item with a lower retail and no comparison price (our store systems allow us to remove the comparison price but not change it).

Melissa and Doug vehicle stamp set: This stamp set is still $9.95 at Indigo. There is no indication that the same product is available on Mastermind’s website. We were told by employees at more than one Mastermind store that the product had been discontinued there.  We enclose a screenshot that shows Mastermind’s pricing from last week although the item appears to be currently sold out.

Point Zero softshell jacket: The jacket we found at $65.94 seems to be identical to the one we purchased at Winners. The Sears jacket is now priced at $56.94, discounted from the price we found. We would be interested in knowing why you say this product appears to be a different style. We enclose a picture of a price ticket that shows the $109 price point on what we believe is the same jacket.

Fisher Price Book and Floor puzzle: Thank you for pointing out the issue with this product being on the wholesale website. However, the website that Winners used to validate its “compare at” price indicates the in-store price for this product is $9.99, which is also less than the Winners “compare at” price. As well, Indigo is sold out of this product, but its list price for the product is $10.99. The Australian publisher of this set (The Five Mile Press) doesn't have the product listed on its website.  We addressed this in our initial response.  Winners used the website CBC relied upon in its initial letter to us (which only sells wholesale).  Their affiliated retail website shows a list price of $16.95 USD which one might pay in other retailers, which is far in excess of our $12 compare at price.  CBC now points to a $9.99 “store price” listed on this website.  The fact is, the website offers it online at $9.09, plus shipping costs of $4.94, which means a consumer would pay a total of $14.03.

Adidas Small Defender Duffel: We have attached (below) a full photo of the Winners ticket. My apologies that the last one was cut off. The same size and style duffel bag is sold on Sport Chek’s website for $29.99.  We believe the item you purchased is either an isolated mis-ticketing incident or represents an instance of ticket switching.   Winners sells the Adidas item that you purchased with a retail price of 16.99 and a compare at price of $30, which is in line with Sport Chek’s pricing.

Michael Kors scarf: Thank you for letting us know that Winners re-ticketed this item.  No response requested

Axe Philips Shaver: This product seems to be available in the U.S. only. We couldn’t find it on any website that would ship to Canada, including the American Best Buy site.  Winners buys from thousands of vendors all over the world to bring exciting items to our Canadian consumers at exceptional values, every day.  We believe this item offered a tremendous value to our shoppers.

New Balance Men’s runners: We were looking for as close to the identical product as possible. We see that Sport Chek sells 13 pairs of Men’s New Balance running shoes however none of them were similar to the product that we purchased.  A Sport Chek representative told us they don’t believe the store has carried this style in the last couple of years.  A Running Room representative told us they didn’t think the store had ever carried this style. We also called New Balance and were told this style was first released in 2011 and has since been discontinued. We would appreciate if you could send us a link to the shoes Winners is comparing to this discontinued style.  We have confirmed with our vendor that Sport Chek carried this style earlier this year, and also that the style in our stores is comparable to other New Balance running shoes offered for between $130-$140.

Calvin Klein tie: We were looking for the same product, but yes, there are Calvin Klein ties on The Bay’s website for $69.50.  No response requested

Ralph Lauren mittens: The Bay doesn’t sell any Ralph Lauren mittens online, only gloves, therefore, as we mentioned, we couldn’t find a comparable price online. Could you please send us a link to the mittens you are referring to? As we noted in our initial response, Ralph Lauren cold weather accessories are typically offered for full MSRP at The Bay. As a result of holiday promotional activity, mittens are currently on sale at $36.40 ( image attached). Please note that Winners retail price on this comparable item is a much greater value, priced at $14.99.              

Tommy Hilfiger Men's V-Neck shirts: Thank you for clarifying how the “compare at” was calculated in this instance with a different product (two shirts in the pack versus three). Was the two pack of t-shirts a Winners-specific product?  No, it was not.

Kenneth Cole Reaction wallet: We were looking for the same or similar wallets as the one we purchased, but as we said, we were unable to find it. Could you please clarify if you will be re-ticketing this item, and if so, what the new price will be?  We are reticketing this item with a lower retail and no comparison price.

KitchenAid rolling pin: A KitchenAid rolling pin is available on Bed Bath and Beyond for 45.99. We weren't able to find the exact one we purchased, but we see the similarities between this product and the one we bought. No response requested

CHI Magnified Shampoo, 32 oz: We were not able to find this shampoo in this size on the site you indicated. Could you please send us more information about where else this CHI shampoo is sold?  We have attached a screen shot showing this shampoo in this 32 ounce size on the site we indicated.

Sincerely,

Shannon Johnson, Winners Spokesperson

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