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Kmart® is a discount department store best known for its iconic blue light special sales gimmick, consisting of surprise announcements when price-cuts were offered for a limited time on specific merchandise. At the beginning of each random sales blitz, the phrase "Attention Kmart® shoppers..." heard over the store's loudspeaker generally preceded a proclamation of the bargain item. Concurrently, a flashing blue siren light, similar to the one atop many police cars, illuminated the area. Customers then flocked to the designated department to take advantage of the sale. During the height of its popularity, the campaign was often successful in eliciting a shopping frenzy, especially since the discount typically lasts no more than 15 minutes.
Developed by Kmart® in the 1960s, the blue light special campaign was instituted to increase sales. It was successful for several decades, but was phased out in 1991. Ten years later, in 2001, the marketing ploy was revived, but the return of the famous sporadic event was short-lived. Buyers were not as enthusiastic about it as they were in the past. Kmart's® competitive edge may have diminished due to the influx of big-box discount stores, such as Walmart® and Target®, where value-priced items were marketed in a more contemporary, less intrusive, manner.
At the time, Kmart® suffered from financial difficulties which ultimately led to a filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Subsequently, the corporation worked to restructure marketing efforts. Since the iconic sales blitz was as famous as the brand itself, the company initiated a website called BlueLight.com, which gave the financially-troubled corporation a much needed presence on the World Wide Web (WWW). Shoppers were then able to visit Kmart® stores via the Internet to access the discounted merchandise from the comfort of their own homes, sans the sporadic flashing lights and loudspeaker announcements.
It was not until 2009 that the blue light special was once again reintroduced to the Kmart® shopping experience. Customers are not likely to see the once-familiar siren light flashing in the store anymore, however. Now, most locations only participate in the program during the weekends, if at all. The decline in popularity is probably attributed to the negative connotation associated with the bargain blitz.
Sometimes, the phrase "blue light special" is used to describe a cheap item, regardless of where it may have been purchased. The term dates back to the 1980s when it was often used in a derogatory manner. During the era, many feature films, such as Beetlejuice, Rain Man and Ruthless People, made somewhat unfavorable references to the store's well-known campaign. During that time, the phrase became part of the vocabulary of popular culture.
Frequently Asked Questions
What exactly was a Blue Light Special?
A Blue Light Special was a surprise price reduction offered for a limited time in Kmart stores. It originated in the early 1960s and became a cultural icon. When announced, a blue police-style light would flash in the store, signaling shoppers to a specific discount. This marketing tactic created a sense of urgency and excitement, encouraging customers to take advantage of the deal before it ended.
How did shoppers know when a Blue Light Special was happening?
Shoppers were alerted to a Blue Light Special through an in-store announcement, often accompanied by the phrase "Attention Kmart shoppers!" The flashing blue light, mounted on a mobile cart, was then wheeled to the relevant department, drawing customers' attention to the discounted items. The spontaneous nature of these specials added an element of surprise to the shopping experience.
Did Blue Light Specials offer significant savings?
Yes, Blue Light Specials were known for offering significant savings on a variety of products. These deals were designed to clear out inventory quickly, so discounts were often substantial to entice immediate purchases. While the exact amount of savings varied, the specials were a cornerstone of Kmart's value proposition to customers looking for deals.
Are Blue Light Specials still offered at Kmart stores?
Blue Light Specials were discontinued and then sporadically brought back over the years as part of promotional campaigns. However, with the decline of Kmart and the closure of many of its stores, the Blue Light Specials are no longer a regular feature. The few remaining Kmart stores may occasionally use the concept for nostalgic marketing purposes.
What impact did Blue Light Specials have on retail marketing?
Blue Light Specials had a significant impact on retail marketing by introducing the concept of flash sales and in-store promotions that create a sense of urgency. This strategy has been adopted in various forms by other retailers and has evolved with technology, influencing online flash sales and limited-time offers that are common in e-commerce today.