I recently posted about how Harbor Freight slashed $100 off the price of a new line of US General tool boxes. This and other seemingly permanent discounts on new tool launches prompted me to more closely watch Harbor Freight’s pricing trends.
Earlier this month, I posted about the new Harbor Freight Hercules 12V brushless reciprocating saw. I received an email yesterday, with the subject line: “Alert: Price drop on items you viewed.”
First of all, I greatly dislike emails like this. They’re almost as pestering as the “wait, you left something in your cart!!” types of emails.
I just posted about this less than 4 weeks ago, and it’s already been discounted?
I looked at the product page, and it doesn’t say “on sale,” or anything like that, its price now simply reads $69.99 instead of $74.99.
Looking at other Harbor Freight Hercules cordless power tool releases that I posted about in the past year, their prices have not changed.
So, this appears to another one-off discount. Maybe it’s an early adopter type of discount that was planned, and the price will go back up to $75 at a period of time. Or maybe they realized $70 was a better price.
Readers have shared their disappointment about how Harbor Freight coupons have become infrequent and even scarce. Hercules and US General products are usually excluded from Harbor Freight’s coupons, but maybe these discounts are something new they’re trying instead.
As you speculate: “maybe these discounts are something new they’re trying instead.”
Having been a partner in several successful businesses, I can say that no single marketing approach works forever. You need to adapt to changing times and new realities. Sometimes your business model that made you successful when you were small or just starting out – does not translate well to growth or changing times.
Working on my MBA – we studied various case histories of companies that were once failing and turned themselves around, and others that were the “darling” of investors and business-writer gurus – but were not sustainable in the long run. I just think about companies like Peoples Express that was the subject of many management books about what to do – but turned out to be successful for only a brief time based on circumstances that were bound to change.
In my own experience – my partners and I acquired and turned around or absorbed some businesses that seemed to have good fundamentals but were failing in part based on pricing models that stressed low price – instead of high quality at a fair price.
True, but there are times when changing and adapting simply won’t work.
JC Penny made a change about 10 years ago, where they did away with coupons and sales in favor of consistently lower prices. This was such a huge failure that it’s likely now a case study taught to marketing students and professionals.
Harbor Freight’s coupons were so frequent and prevalent that it’s part of their brand. Readers have made it clear that they’re not happy at the now-scarcity of this.
At the start of the pandemic, DIY and home improvement businesses were booming, and a lot of retailers cut back on promotions, partly because they didn’t need to, and partly because they couldn’t keep up with the business. Is this why Harbor Freight started cutting back on coupons?
Harbor Freight is also working towards higher quality level tools, such as Hercules power tools and Icon hand tools and storage products. I don’t know if changing coupon strategies tie in with this or not.
Additionally, Harbor Freight has been pushing their credit card program, as well as their paid membership program.
There are lots of intricacies here, which is why I’m so interested in their pricing and discount patterns.
FYI if you want to write about a better quality deal, Home Depot is giving away the power stack starter kits with several tool SKUs as a BOGO. I got my three speed atomic impact I was eyeing, a free battery, and another 112 charger for the pile of chargers I need to start selling. $149.
If I had to guess, I’d say that Harbor Freight took a really hard hit on shipping costs due to the pandemic and they decided to suspend or kill their coupon program to offset the cost.
Good points fred. The part that occurred to me was may e they brought it in at a slightly higher price point in anticipation of the trade issues remaining unstable, then found that it was a little too high for customers to buy.
It seems like HF has been raising their prices a little too much the last year or so, maybe trying to move up into top tier retail, and its not working for them.
For me, Harbor Freight remains a possible source for the least expensive option for an immediate need, likely to be one-time requirement, tool. That doesn’t mean their offerings are the overall best or most cost effective option. They’re the lower dollar, locally available option for an immediate need. Did that make any sense?
With their old coupons, it was a lot less painful to squander some money at Harbor Freight. Without coupons, if it’s not an immediate need to get something done, searching around for a better deal online or waiting for a deal on something better quality to go on sale is my usual procedure. I agree that HF is trying to navigate the waters of around reducing/eliminating coupons and convincing picky/pickier customers to part with their money. As many retailers (particularly clothing) have learned, customers get addicted to discounts and won’t buy anything at full price knowing a coupon or discount is likely around the corner. Harbor Freight’s time to face the music.
The coupons seem to come back recently. On battery powered tools, like many have said, HF should have a single platform and just focusing on entry level performance at the best value. Just look at Ryobi basically. I stopped by a store recently after not doing so for quite a while (used to be almost weekly) and was taken aback by how they display their Hercules and Bauer lines. All the H/B tools are spread out through out the store. There are two dedicate H/B sections for the two lines, but those sections do not have all the tools. I wanted to check out the Hercules 12v long neck ratchet, because of how small the head is, but almost missed it because it is in the “ratchets” section at the other end of the store along with mostly pneumatic tools. And of course there is no battery in the “ratchets” section, so I can’t visualizing hot the ratchet looks with battery. HF don’t “get” the whole battery power tools yet.
My harbor freight outings definitely decreased with the availability of the coupons. What’s weird though, is that I replaced those purchases with more expensive ones simply because there was no coupon. It doesn’t make sense I know but like Stuart said, those coupons took me to the store.
This sort of “price drop alert” makes me feel like I am being ripped off, even if I never purchased, or intended to purchase this saw. Did HF intentionally charge more than they should have in the first place? In my head, I’m thinking if it was $74 and then dropped to $69, maybe it should really be closer to $59. It makes me a bit suspicious and of turns me off, especially in todays inflationary market. Everything else in this world is going up in price, except Harbor Freight tools. Who are they trying to fool? They could of at least come up with an excuse for the lower price like a holiday sale, oops, we bought too much, or other more convincing reason.
i am really so surprised that people shop or don’t shop at hf because of coupons.
i have one of the larger acme tool stores in the same town as my nearest hf. they are not apples to apples or even oranges to apples, but they are both candy stores for a tool junkie. they are less than a mile apart as 2 pawn shops and a couple auto parts stores. i may got to all of them on any given day with none being favored above the others. i may buy something at all or none of them or anything in between.
i go to hf because they simply are one of the places that has the largest assortments of tools at different ends of the spectrum (heavy machinery to carpentry to hobby) at differing price points. if i find the price palatable and appropriate quality i purchase and if not i don’t.
prices vary at times in every store but for some reason if hf changes a price or has or doesn’t have a coupon it is a huge issue.
The only reason I see to set foot in HF these days is pretty much if their store is not out of the way, to get a most basic to average “quality” tool that you must have immediately, because the other stores you are familiar with don’t carry it …
Prices are ticking up. No coupons. Repeated stock issues on certain items where you want a second one or an extra pair. Now have to start calling ahead?
Since they stopped the coupons I have not shopped at hf like I used to. I don’t want to wait till something goes on special to buy it with the coupon I could get it as I needed it. I find myself shopping more often on Amazon rather than Harbor freight. No incentive anymore and I almost always bought more than just what I used the coupon for.
Mark W Welsh
Come on people there’s nothing wrong with harbor freight I enjoy shopping there.
Let’s don’t ruin another business to the bigger companies
Harbor Freight has more than 1200 stores. While not as large as Home Depot or Lowe’s, it’s not exactly a small business.
I think HF found themselves on a downhill slope as more and more china-direct vendors entered the marketplace via Amazon and Ebay. They’re selling the same (crap) and consumers could pay the same or quite often less on these e-commerce platforms (which is great for convenience or if you don’t have a HF nearby). So the coupons mostly made up for the higher margins…until raw material increases, tariffs, and a shift in strategy by the majority of chinese manufacturers and wholesalers (retailers as well). HF’s prices started going up 10-20 percent about 3 years ago, well before the pandemic. I noticed that several times as I watched a few items (General boxes included), and suddenly the sale prices were exactly the same as the previous retail prices, and then the coupons no longer applied to that line of products, etc. I think it was a gradual and probably very necessary move to increase margins.
On one hand, it’s refreshing to see them trying to improve quality in many product lines, and they have done ok there for several things. Their newer lines of abrasives aren’t utter crap anymore and they’re still priced decently compared to higher quality offerings from the major brands.
On the other hand, they have not really changed anything in terms of basically non-existent warranties or parts availability. So when I see all the power tool fluff and some of this new “high quality” line of hand tools, that’s just irritating. Value vs. performance vs. longevity is really taking a hit there for people who actually use the tools much. And since along with this they have embraced “perception pricing” it’s almost just a ripoff. Many of these newer better quality higher priced items can be had for the same or less in tools/brands that are a) the same, b) even better quality, and/or c) have warranties and support that mean something real.
Everyone knows the pitfalls of a regular coupon game, especially if it leans toward the shady side in terms of frequency or compared to regular pricing, but it was a major attractor for them, for sure. Anecdotal observations around social media and on their site suggest that a lot of people simply stopped shopping there or do so far less than they used to. We’ll see where it goes for them. I buy very little there but appreciate them and having them near me…some real bargains and some convenience for certain things as well, but generally shop elsewhere for anything that I don’t want to be disposable or that I need to depend on qualitywise. It’s interesting to think back and compare them today vs. who they were 15 years ago.
I will say one thing: fundamentally, I do not trust or respect HF as a business. There are some explicit reasons for this and I don’t want to go into detail, but while I still shop there a little bit, it’s only anonymous cash purchases and I will never buy anything from them that might require a return/warranty or anything that involves personal information. They’ve got some systemic issues that border on the unethical, negligent, or both. You’ll see some of this trickle down into individual stores/management but it’s at their core administration.