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the hunt.

After buying gifts in December, then attempting New Year’s resolutions in January, some New Yorkers are burned out by February. But for those in the know, this is prime time for The Hunt. February means slashed prices, the perfect time of the year to shop.

The best part of getting a great deal (especially one with a good story) is sharing the details. When I’m complimented on a piece of hard-won clothing, I can respond with the following question: “How much would you pay for something like this?”

People who enjoy the game as much as I do dive right in.

“Two hundred and fifty dollars. At least.”

“No,” I whisper, leaning close. “Fifty-nine ninety-nine.” And so begins the story of The Hunt. In certain circles, it’s a serious source of bonding.

There are some, like my mother, who are horrified. “If someone gives you a compliment, just say ‘thank you’ and move on,” she says.

She has a point — but people who like The Hunt know it has nothing to do with price and everything to do with the score.

That is what marketing genius Ron Johnson didn’t understand when he was hired to reinvent J.C. Penney’s image. Johnson was the mastermind behind the hippification of Target (it was his idea to bring in high-end designers to the mostly discount store) and the placement of free “genius bars” in Apple stores to create loyalty and drive customers into the stores.

His big concept for J.C. Penney was to create mini-boutiques within the store and offer “fair and square” prices. The era of 590 different sales per year was over.

“At some point you, as a brand, look desperate,” was how Johnson explained the policy of ending widespread discounts almost exactly year ago.

The results have been disastrous. No discounts, no bargain bins and no coupons meant no Hunt. And where is the fun in that? The company is now scrambling to make up for significant lost revenue by offering a flurry of promotions.

Hunters enjoy having a story associated with each purchase. Like my beloved Parisian pistachio-colored car coat with brushed silver buttons down the back. I got it on the upper East Side in February of 2010, shortly after Snowmageddon.

I walked into a Madison Ave. boutique I would never have entered any other time of year and saw the coat from across the room on the 50%-off rack. I tried it on and it fit perfectly.

Then a customer with tasteful highlights asked to try the coat in her size.

“Sorry,” said the saleswoman, “It’s the last one. All the winter merchandise is 70% off the sale price. Everyone’s on to spring.”

I could not believe my luck. The SAT-worthy equation meant the pistachio coat was 85% off the original price.

As I paid, the saleswoman whispered, “I think that was Aerin Lauder.” That’s right — I may have scored the coat Estée Lauder’s granddaughter wanted but could not have. The coat doubled in value in my mind. I won — in Ron Johnson’s words — “fair and square.”

Later that night, I had questions. First, why would a Lauder be in New York in February? Aren’t fabulously wealthy New Yorkers in St. Barth’s this time of year? And why would she want my coat?

I began to wonder if the cosmetics heiress might be a fellow hunter. Maybe she, like others who relish The Hunt, only buys things for herself when there’s a score to be had. That would explain why she was in town during such crappy weather.

I know that if I’d paid full price for that coat, I would not love it as much as I do. In truth, pale green makes me look a little jaundiced — but that’s the kind of thing I overlook in light of victory.

When people compliment the uniquely-colored coat, I get to share the details of how it came to be mine. Unless I’m with my mother, in which case, I respond with a demure “thank you” and move on.

This article originally appeared in The Daily News


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