My Most Powerful Shopping Secret: How to Shop at Lord & Taylor for Cheap

When you see the sign for Lord & Taylor, you should not be intimidated by the artificially high prices of new inventory. The possibilities for major savings are infinite!

When you see the sign for Lord & Taylor, you should not be intimidated by the prospect of artificially high prices on new inventory. The possibilities for major savings are infinite!

As someone with a reputation for being able to buy anything and everything at rock bottom prices, I am often inundated with requests to join friends in their shopping excursions. With a few rare exceptions, I go shopping solo, to the chagrin of many. I do this not because I am anti-social (I frequently chat with store employees and friends whom I bump into), but rather because I feel that my slow perusal of all the racks will bore them and make them impatient. To everyone’s surprise, myself included, I find the best bargains (or as I say in Hebrew, metzias) at Lord & Taylor. The other day I had an incredibly successful trip there, paying barely 10% retail. Having critically analyzed Lord & Taylor’s business structure, I have uncovered a foolproof way to exploit maximum savings.

Lord & Taylor markets itself as being glam and too expensive for the layman. Who goes around looking like this?

Lord & Taylor markets itself as being glam and too expensive for the layman. Who goes around looking like this?

When I tell people who are on a tight budget to try Lord & Taylor, I am met with severe skepticism. The public perception is that it is an upscale chain geared toward the Upper-Middle class. Lord & Taylor promotes this image by selling luxury labels and formal attire. Moreover, you often see well-off, middle-aged women shopping for a cocktail dress for the new season. But then, of course, there’s me, looking disheveled in a graphic t-shirt and a messy bun, and on the prowl for a good deal.

Lord & Taylor facilitates the bargain hunting process. However, you must be willing to exhibit self-control. No matter how much you fall in love with something from the new season’s shipment, you must resist buying. Paying the original, full price is antithetical to the fundamentals of bargain hunting, and it pains me to know that the store can successfully take complete advantage of you.

Don't worry if you forget to print it-you can get Lord & Taylor to automatically text it to you!

Don’t worry if you forget to print it-you can get Lord & Taylor to automatically text it to you!

In order to maximize savings, it is critical that Lord & Taylor is both having a sale and is circulating a coupon; if you go when only one is true, you will not achieve the absolute best deals. The possible coupons issued are 15% off regular priced items, 20% off sale and clearance, and, my personal favorite, $20 off $40 or more. (You can even combine the latter with one of the former coupons!)  My theory for why Lord & Taylor began issuing the money bonus coupons is to increase the cash flow in the stores; even with a loss of $20, it will still increase its cash on hand by at least $20, if not more (it is often difficult, but certainly not impossible, to spend exactly $40). But be careful, as sometimes you are not able to use the savings pass on their special Anniversary Sale, which is currently going on. In order to get the biggest bang for your buck, flock to the clearance rack and use these coupons- you will get savings on top of the discounted prices. Clearance often has a stigma attached to it. However, in Lord & Taylor, with its selection of fancy clothing and shoes, this section is of the same quality as the rest of the store, albeit a bit messier.

This is another good deal I got. Unfortunately, the employees were very anal about the minimum purchase price being $40; $39.99 was too little. Not to be deterred, I headed to the clearance section in the socks department. That put me over the minimum required balance, and I got the sweater for around $16. A good deal, considering the fact that it is Cashmere(so soft)!

This is another good deal I got. Unfortunately, the employees were very anal about the minimum purchase price being $40; $39.99 was too little. Not to be deterred, I headed to the clearance section in the socks department. That put me over the minimum required balance, and I got the sweater for around $16. A good deal, considering the fact that it is Cashmere(so soft)!

This plan sounds good in theory, but does it work? Yes. Recently, I bought a dress that, on clearance, was $30, but with a 20% coupon, cost $24. On Friday, I returned to Lord & Taylor and found a nice shirt for $10. A light bulb went off in my head. I returned the dress and rebought it with the shirt, for a total price of $40. I had a $20 off $40 bonus coupon as well as the 20% coupon, and ultimately paid $16-paying less for 2 items than what I had originally paid for just the dress. Did I mention that the dress is Ralph Lauren and originally retails for $135? If that isn’t proof enough, then I do not know what will convince you!

Part of the appeal of Lord & Taylor is that shoppers can have a shopping experience in a neat, relaxed ambience. By having so much clothing, Lord & Taylor often gets cluttered and messy. An aesthetically unappealing store will deter customers, guaranteed.

Part of the appeal of Lord & Taylor is that shoppers can have a shopping experience in a neat, relaxed ambience. By having so much clothing, Lord & Taylor often gets cluttered and messy. An aesthetically unappealing store will deter customers, guaranteed.

The reason I am able to get such good deals is not only due to my penchant for perceiving them from a distance. Lord & Taylor in particular has a terrible business model, which makes bargain hunting extremely easy. The main reason Lord & Taylor is not growing like its competitors is due to a major flaw: excessive inventory. Lord & Taylor gets far too much clothing and shoes, much more than it can possibly sell. Consequently, it is often forced to sell them at the end of the season at a loss.  One would think that a chain that prides itself on its exclusive ambience would try to distinguish itself from Target, which often suffers a similar problem. The only difference, though, is that Target has a high inventory turnover rate, meaning that the goods do not stay on the shelves for very long before being bought. This is not the case with Lord & Taylor, where a pricy item will linger on the rack. And forget about trying to clench an extra discount by pointing out that something is ‘Defective Merchandise’. Normally, stores do not want such inventory, and are willing to sell it at a discount because people will otherwise not buy it. Lord & Taylor corporate policy, on the other hand, is now not to give discounts for such items, but rather to ship them back to headquarters. Not only do they make a loss by not selling the good, but also they must pay even more to transport it again. Another bizarre policy I have noticed is of returning clearance priced items back to the original price (if the same style is reissued for the new season). Suddenly, my Sperry’s that I bought for $24 scan for $80!

I am afraid that these bad policies will lead to the demise of my favorite store. I love getting a terrific bargain, but I would be upset if Lord & Taylor were forced out of business due to mismanagement. Regardless of the corporate policies, it would behoove you to immediately take advantage of the possibility for extreme savings!

Published in: on March 30, 2014 at 4:38 am Comments (0)

Facebook Fiasco: The Acquisition of Whatsapp

You are deluding yourself if you say that you do not see this name at least thrice a day.

You are deluding yourself if you say that you do not see this image at least five times a day.

On both our smartphones and our computers, Facebook dominates our lives. It plays a major role in society, whether we would like to admit it or not (I will admit it. But I am not addicted-I swear!) Thus, it makes sense that anything Facebook does causes a major stir among investors. It bought Instagram nearly 2 years ago for $1 Billion (a genius move considering Instagram’s popularity among both people and companies alike) and, as I previously discussed, it went public. Most recently, Facebook made headlines when it announced that it would be acquiring Whatsapp for a staggering $19 Billion. (“Leora, let me guess, your next blog is going to be about Facebook’s acquisition of Whatsapp, right?” asked a friend of mine. Just to prove him wrong, I am writing about this event now, a few weeks later, after having followed the latest developments. I refuse to be predictable!) This pricey business move, which involves two widely recognized companies, speaks volumes about the nature of mergers and acquisitions, and will have a tremendous impact on Facebook as we know it.

In the investment world, and especially the young and highly unpredictable technology field, $19 billion is a significant sum. Facebook will be acquiring Whatsapp in a combined deal of cash and equity: $4 billion cash and $12 billion of stock (the rest over the course of 4 years). Obviously, Facebook is not carrying out this deal entirely in cold cash; having so much free cash flow would actually be disconcerting, for it would indicate that the company is not wisely investing its money in developments and market securities.

There are so many social media platforms nowadays. Facebook felt the pressure to make it sure it remains on top. It doesn't want to end up like Myspace. Who uses Myspace nowadays? Exactly.

There are so many social media platforms nowadays. Facebook felt the pressure to make sure it remains on top. It doesn’t want to end up like Myspace. Who uses Myspace nowadays? Exactly.

Why did Facebook decide to acquire Whatsapp? Simple: it wants to dominate the social media market. Beforehand, it faced little competition. Now, it must contend with various other social media outlets/communication platforms that take away its users. It is not uncommon to hear people, especially hipsters, proclaim that they are done with Facebook and have deactivated their account. (Ironically, these same people post filtered pictures on Instagram ad nauseam. Facebook owns Instagram, remember?) Facebook noticed that its popularity was waning, especially in comparison to Whatsapp. The truth lay in the numbers: Facebook has 100 million users, while Whatsapp has 450 million users. While I am not part of the latter statistic since I do not have a smartphone, I was aware of Whatapp’s strong presence. Facebook was, too, and decided to be proactive about this competition.

Based on the graph, it is clear that Whatsapp has exploded in popularity. Yet when determining the price, one must analyze various metrics-ie EBITDA, P/E ratio, ROE, ROA...

Based on the graph, it is clear that Whatsapp has exploded in popularity. Yet when determining the price, one must analyze various metrics, such as EBITDA, P/E ratio, ROE, ROA… These are some simple metrics that are important to know if you consider investing in the stock market.

 

Getting rid of the competition before it is too late is a wise business move. But at $19 billion, did Facebook overpay? Granted, Whatsapp is a ubiquitous feature on many a smartphone. However, the acquisition price must reflect a number of factors. When calculating the purchase price, the buyer must consider yearly profits, the target’s total debts, the industry multiple, and goodwill, to name a few factors. Purchasing a technology company for so much money conjures up memories of the early ‘00s, during the dot com bubble-and the subsequent crash. Companies paid exorbitant amounts to acquire other target companies, anticipating that the value of these companies would continue to appreciate in value; unfortunately, most were forced to ultimately declare bankruptcy. This leads me to wonder: is Facebook so confident in its future success that it believes it can avoid the same fate as those of many top-performing companies nearly a decade ago?

Mergers and acquisions are frequent in the airline industry. This definitely has something to do with teh fact that the airline industry is a money losing business, for they have high fixed costs but are always concerned with covering the marginal costs by filling that last seat right before takeoff. Unfortunately, fewer companies means less competition, which results in higher prices.

Mergers and acquisitions are frequent in the airline industry. This definitely has something to do with the fact that the airline industry is a money losing business; they have high fixed costs, but are always concerned with covering the marginal costs by filling that last seat right before takeoff. Unfortunately, fewer companies means less competition, which results in higher prices.

 

While mergers and actions occur often, we only hear about them when they involve large companies (Note: acquisitions entail one company swallowing up another. Mergers involve combining companies into a distinct, new one, and it is usually marked by a name change.) Not only is there more publicity because people are interested in fate of their shares, but also because the government may choose to get involved. Since America has a mixed economy, the federal government might get involved when companies try to merge or acquire one another in order to prevent monopolies from forming. Monopolies do not allow for any competition, thereby enabling businesses to charge whatever price they wish. In this instance, the government’s role is to protect the people from being exploited by callous businessmen. (Next time, though, try exhibiting more efficiency. Government shutdown, anyone?) There are many laws, such as the Sherman Anti Trust Act and the Clayton Anti Trust Act, that were put in play about a century ago to do just that. Clearly, the more things change, the more they stay the same: the fact that these laws are still so relevant proves that business is still business, no matter the era.

I personally think that the acquisition of Whatsapp was a mistake. Not only do I think that Facebook overpaid, but I also think that the companies will not work well together. Whatsapp is inherently private, while Facebook is marked by its public space. Such fundamental differences will breed major problems in the future. After all, an important determinant of a successful merger/acquisition is that the company culture and ideals mesh well. In this case, Whatsapp will ultimately sacrifice its unique identity for the sake of bolstering Facebook’s popularity. One thing is certainly clear: once this acquisition is carried out, Facebook will surely metamorphose into Worldbook.

Published in: on March 18, 2014 at 2:57 am Comments (3)

JP Morgan Trip with Queens College

In addition to being in charge of NPP, Professor Miller is also a professor in the BALA program.

In addition to being in charge of NPP, Professor Miller is also a professor in the BALA program.

About two weeks ago, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in the New Professional’s Program event entitled “Day on Wall Street”. For those of you who do not know, New Professionals Program is a recently established student service that provides various methods of training and preparation for entering the job market. Since there is so much competition when applying to a job, you should definitely take advantage of this invaluable resource. Veterans in the business world, Professor Denise Miller and Ms. Diane Shultz are responsible for NPP’s instant success; it baffles me how Queens College students survived without having their guidance! But I digress. The goal of this event, which took place at JP Morgan, was to give students who are contemplating a career in finance a glimpse into what the job entails. Though I was there for only 7 hours-a fraction of any employee’s workday- I gleaned a tremendous amount in a day packed with information.

After waking up at 5:30 AM (on my day off!) and bracing the biting cold, I arrived at JP Morgan ready for what lay in store. The first item on the itinerary was the Morning Call, in which a panel of about 4 individuals explained, discussed, and analyzed the contents of a confidential handout that listed industry trends, different companies, and business strategies to the audience of employees. Sitting in the back row with my fellow Queens College peers, I looked around the room and noticed a pattern. Besides for the fact that JCrew or Banana Republic seemed to be the popular choice of attire, almost everyone carried a Starbucks venti coffee. I pride myself in never drinking coffee, but I was not surprised to see this, considering the long day in store for them!

Just to avoid a lawsuit, I blacked out the names of the people who met with us. As you can see, it was a packed day!

Just to avoid the possibility of a lawsuit, I blacked out the names of the people who met with us. As you can see, it was a packed day!

Following the Morning Call, we headed off to a pristine business room where we were treated to a delicious breakfast. Now that we were fully awake, we heard from a variety of speakers. There had been a great deal of thought put into planning this event, and it showed. The order of the speakers went up the ranks of employees, from analysts to associates to bankers. The progression reflected the JP Morgan culture; as you work there longer, you get promoted to a higher position.  After each group of speakers, we had a ‘break’, which functioned as time to network with the speakers one on one. In my opinion, these networking opportunities were the most invaluable part of the day: we were able to converse with the employees and get personal advice. At first, the prospect of networking with so many successful businesspeople intimidated me, but soon enough I was comfortable, knowing that these individuals were just human, and had once started out in my position, too.

Over the course of the day, there were certain themes and lessons that were reinforced. Firstly, all the employees emphasized the importance of being a team player. I was initially skeptical, given JP Morgan’s indelible label as being cutthroat. However, as I thought about it, I realized that being extremely driven and being a team player are two characteristics that are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they are ingredients that together result in maximum success.

Achieving success, and ultimately getting places, is impossible to do on your own; nobody gets anywhere by themself. A second important lesson was that networking is crucial. It happens everywhere, whether you realize it or not. Furthermore, connections you foster must be maintained; it is not enough to simply strike up a conversation with someone, never to speak to them again. You want people to remember you.

JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley. Both have a similar name, but are NOT to be confused.

JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley. Both have a similar name, but are NOT to be confused.

Lastly, they emphasized the importance of being scrupulous. They mentioned instances of reading cover letters in which people write about Morgan Stanley, which is an automatic X. When applying to many places, it is easy to get mixed up. However, companies as prestigious as JP Morgan seek excellence and perfection. An application is a reflection of you, and therefore any egregious mistake indicates that you are an unqualified candidate.

By the time I left JP Morgan, I felt that I had had an extremely worthwhile, enriching experience there. Unlike many others I have attended, this business event remained true to its title. It was informative, engaging, and interesting, and I look forward to going to another one in the near future!

Published in: on March 12, 2014 at 2:06 am Comments (1)

SAT Inc

Achieve more? Give me a break.

Achieve more? Give me a break.

The SATs. Just the mention of that three letter term (it is no longer an acronym) sends shivers up and down my spine. For most people, talking about the test evokes terrible memories of a difficult time in high school that have been tucked away, unsuccessfully, into oblivion. With so many people having taken it, there are a handful of discernable SAT archetypes that I have identified:

  1. The Overachiever: Preparing since the womb, this stressed individual carries vocabulary flashcards in one hand, and an SAT review book in the other.
  2. The Oblivious One: There is always that one person who forgets something vital the day of the test, such as a calculator or a #2 pencil. While fellow test takers shower this person with sympathy, they secretly think, ”At least it did not happen to me!”
  3. The Underdog: Completely under the radar, this person surprises everyone by doing well. Diligence and/or tutoring helps.
  4. The Braggart: The one who goes around and makes sure that everyone knows his/her impressive score.
  5. The Hated One: The person who barely puts any effort into studying, and gets the highest score. In the ensuing weeks, admirers swarm him/her, while secretly spewing venomous hateful comments in sheer jealously.
  6. The Holy Grail: Someone who manages to balance studying and relaxing, and ultimately succeeds on the test without compromising their sanity. Disclaimer: this individual does not exist.

The SAT plays a crucial role in our society by contributing stress to high school juniors as well as to the overall college application process. Recently, College Board announced that it would be implementing several changes to this standardized test. Though ostensibly innocuous, these changes reflect the true nature of the SAT. This test is not a way to gauge the intellectual capabilities of students; rather, is a money-making scheme.

Atticus Finch was a man of courage and integrity, both inside and out. College Board promotes itself as a company dedicated to higher learning for students, but in reality is seeking profits-just like any other business.

Atticus Finch was a virtuous man of courage and integrity, both inside and out. College Board promotes itself as a company dedicated to higher learning for students, but in reality is seeking profits-just like any other business.

Significant changes have not been made to the SAT since 2005, when the highest composite score was raised to 2400 from 1600 due to the addition of the essay section. Now the scores will return to being out of 1600. The optional essay will be focused more on expressing experiences and opinions, rather than answering prompts. So much for using the tried and true formula of using one literary and one historical example as support-Atticus Finch and the Civil War never let me down. Words deemed too obsolete will also be replaced with jargon more often used in college. Additionally, math concepts will be more focused, with some sections not allowing the use of a calculator. My jaw dropped, though, when I discovered that there would no longer be a ¼ point penalty for wrong answers. This is not the SAT that I had come to hate.

Why is it that the College Board decided to make such drastic changes? College Board is echoing arguments that teachers have been making for years: the SAT is disconnected with the work of high schools. Many of the words that students memorize, not learn, for the SAT are neither used in the classroom nor are part of everyday vernacular. In the math section, questions are often characterized as being “SAT” in nature, and never actually covered in a school curriculum.

In reality, though, I think College Board is trying to make the SAT more attractive because it recognizes that the ACT is a serious threat. While the SAT costs $51 to take and penalizes for the wrong answer, the ACT is $50.50 and allows for guessing without penalty. With people finding the ACT to be more manageable, as well as colleges now accepting it as a substitute for the SAT, more students are registering for this exam instead. College Board now sees that where it once held a firm monopoly, it now faces legitimate competition. Seeing that its current testing policy was unpopular, College Board, like any company desperate to reverse a downward spiral, decided to spice things up.

Every year there is a new official SAT study guide book. Not only does College Board make money from the registration fees, but also from the preparation that goes into taking the test, too.

Every year there is a new official SAT study guide book. Not only does College Board make money from the registration fees, but also from the preparation that goes into taking the test, too.

Of course, everything about the SAT is about making money; the registration fee is simply icing on the cake. There are pricy “new” SAT books that must be updated every year. Once you have the books, you must also hire a tutor. The SAT is notorious for not testing intelligence, but rather for testing the ability to take the SAT-a skill that no teacher can ever impart to a student. (When I volunteered as an SAT math tutor, people could not fathom why I would give up the change to do the exact same thing, except for at least $80 an hour-the starting rate for a novice SAT tutor.) Clearly, this puts underprivileged kids at a disadvantage when they do not have the financial means to gain access to unlocking the code to conquering the SAT. Furthermore, by giving the option of score choice, College Board is favoring students who can afford to take the test multiple times. Also, did I mention that there are fees for sending SAT scores to colleges? By the end of the entire SAT process, parents can easily fork down $3000. Is $1000 a letter really worth it?

It is scary to think that these filled in bubbles can play a significant role in the college you attend.

It is scary to think that these filled in bubbles can play a significant role in the college you attend.

Ultimately, there is a fundamental issue with the SAT as well as the ACT. Why is it that a significant determinant for most Americans to get accepted into college is a test compiled by 2 private companies? College Board feigns sympathy for the test takers by having a Question of the Day, but in reality, it exploits them. Perhaps having a government mandated test, rather than one made by an arbitrarily powerful one, would fairer? New York City has regents, why can’t there be a national version of this?

Published in: on March 6, 2014 at 2:37 am Comments (5)

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